Far more than fashion
Enrico Vattani, head of the Economic and Commercial Section at the Embassy of Italy
Text by Andrew Howitt
Text by Andrew Howitt
What kind of presence do Italian firms have in Japan?
There are more than 200 Italian companies working here, including many important firms and iconic brands. And there’s such a wide spectrum of companies, working in all sorts of industries from fashion to cars to hi-tech. There’s also pharmaceuticals, machinery and precision mechanics.
Italy is even present in experimental Japanese nuclear fusion facilities, which have the potential to offer almost unlimited clean energy in the future. There’s a big prototype reactor in Naka, Ibaraki, the JT-60SA, and some of its components come from Italy. Italy is often perceived as a country of art, culture, fashion, food and wine — which are areas where we’re very strong — but I think this project is a symbol that we’re also very strong in other sectors.
What are the recent trends in Italy–Japan trade?
We’ve had some very impressive results, especially over the last two years. There were some very good numbers from 2018 for our exports — a 9% increase. And in the first quarter of 2019, we are witnessing very positive trends in some of our most important product categories.
One of our goals is to attract foreign direct investment (FDI), centred on quality, development and employment. We are glad that, in 2018, Japanese FDI in Italy reached $1 billion. We are confident that 2019 will be as good.
What are the main activities of the economic and commercial section?
We have two pillars of activity. One is policy. We work in close collaboration with the EU Delegation in Japan. We also work with Japanese institutions — from ministries to customs offices — on market access negotiations, and there are some very interesting ones coming up.
Then there’s the promotional aspect. We have our office in the embassy, and the Italian trade promotion section, which is a larger group, is here, too. We work together on fairs and trade shows, for example.
What are some recent events you’ve been involved in organising?
We have Design Day, Innovation Day and Italian Cuisine Week, to name a few. These are all events where we promote Italian lifestyle.
We were at FOODEX at the beginning of March. A huge number of Italian companies — about 200 — came this year. Italy had one of the biggest foreign pavilions at the fair at over 2,000m2. The embassy organised a B2B session where more than 50 Japanese groups came with their buyers to meet the Italian companies, and we arranged over 300 meetings. There’re only about three hours in the day to get the right people to meet, so it needs to be organised beforehand with almost surgical precision.
Could you give me some details about Italian Design Day?
It’s an initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome and it happens all over the world on the same day. Our whole diplomatic network concentrates its efforts, budgets and energy on this. This was the third edition, which took place on 20 March at the Italian Cultural Institute in Tokyo.
This year’s theme was the future of cities that have hosted large events, such as the Olympics or an Expo. There’s a link between Italy and Japan in this regard, with Expo 2015 in Milan, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Expo 2025 in Osaka. At the event, the Japanese architect Atsushi Kitagawara, who built the Japan pavilion in Milan, and the Italian architect Susanna Tradati, who built the Italian pavilion, talked about the urbanisation of areas such as the new innovation district in Milan. It’s like a small Milan within Milan being built where Expo 2015 was held, which is an area of one million square metres. It’s called MIND, the Milan Innovation District. There’s going to be a hospital with a research centre, for example. Human Technopole, a research institute with a focus on genomics, and the scientific facilities of the Milan University are moving there. It’s going to be self-contained, and a lot of experimentation will be done with mobility, such as autonomous driving.
What is Innovation Day?
It’s an event we organise together with JETRO. The embassy brings to Tokyo a number of representatives from Italian startups in various fields, including life sciences and AI. We invite around 200 potential investors and give the startups a stage to give pitching sessions. It’s always very successful. We’re hoping that the next one, which will take place in October, will be even bigger because there are more partners that want to work with us.
We think Italy has a lot of potential in fields such as AI, robotics, mobility and technologies connected to the ageing society, so our government is making these types of exchanges a priority.
This is really a great time to be in Japan and working in a commercial office, especially the Italian one. •