“Our bilateral relations are stronger than ever in every field”

New synergies, new opportunities

Ambassador of Italy to Japan Gianluigi Benedetti


MARCH 2022 The Interview / Text by Andrew Howitt / Photos courtesy of the Embassy of Italy in Japan

Since 1985, Ambassador of Italy to Japan Gianluigi Benedetti has served his nation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His first overseas posting was to Japan, from 1987 to 1991, then he worked at the Italian embassy in the US from 1991 to 1995. After returning to Italy, he held a number of different positions, including that of diplomatic adviser to the minister for public administration and innovation (2006–2011), head of the Italian delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (2012–2015), and ambassador to Israel (2017–2021). In 2021, he was given the title of Knight of the Grand Cross in the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. He returned to Japan last October as ambassador.

How does it feel being back in Japan after 30 years, this time as ambassador?
It is a great honour for me to serve Italy as ambassador in this country that is very dear to my heart. When I was here in the late 1980s, I fell in love with Japan’s culture, its history, its technology, and its people, who were extraordinarily kind to me. I have great memories of my time here. Today, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to discover a new Japan, a different country from the one I experienced as a young diplomat, but one that preserves its fascinating characteristics.

What are the priorities for the embassy in 2022?
The aim for 2022, and for all of my tenure, is to work to further deepen and broaden the spectrum of an already strong bilateral partnership. In particular, we will emphasise the creation of new synergies and opportunities for Italian and Japanese universities, research centres, and companies — in particular SMEs — to join forces, cooperate more, and launch scientific and industrial joint research projects. We already have a few good examples of this kind of cooperation, such as the industrial research projects carried out by Brembo, a leading Italian company in the development and production of high-performance braking systems. There is great potential for the coming years.

In the political domain, Italy will strengthen its coordination with Japan both in the G7 framework and bilaterally. We will also strongly support the EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo–Pacific, a region where our engagement has been increasing due to its growing geopolitical and economic centrality. Within this framework — and in line with the principles and values underpinning Japan’s Free and Open Indo–Pacific Strategy — we will continue strengthening cooperation with Japan so as to identify joint projects and initiatives in areas of common interest, including green transition, connectivity, security, and defence.

How would you describe Italy–Japan relations today?
Our bilateral relations are stronger than ever in every field: political, economic, and cultural. Italy and Japan are bound by a strategic partnership rooted in deep, historical links of friendship. We share the same values and we cooperate closely on all major items on the international agenda — bilaterally, through the EU, and in international fora, such as the G7
and G20.

Thanks to the EU–Japan Economic Partnership Agreement, our trade relations are thriving, with Italy being the second-largest EU supplier to Japan. I am sure that, over the medium term, Italy’s participation in EXPO 2025 Osaka–Kansai will give a significant boost to our cultural, economic, scientific, and industrial partnerships. And, as a result, we are confident that we will receive strong support for Rome’s candidature to host EXPO 2030 — focusing on the theme of urban regeneration — that will constitute another extraordinary opportunity to further strengthen our economic and technological ties.

The relations between Italy and Japan are excellent, but there is always room to further expand and develop our relationship in new directions. That is what we are going to pursue for the prosperity of our citizens and companies.

“there is a lot of potential for enhanced collaboration between Italy and Japan … related to the goal of climate neutrality”

Could you give a few examples of important collaborations taking place between Italy and Japan right now?
We have longstanding bilateral cooperation agreements in many areas from culture to education, from scientific cooperation to defence technology, and more than 30 years of industrial cooperation promoted by a private-sector organisation, the Italy Japan Business Group.

Now, our Next Generation Italy programme is providing a great boost to some sectors in Italy, and this will offer the opportunity to expand bilateral cooperation in areas such as artificial intelligence, big data, green technologies, agritech, biopharma, sustainable mobility, and biodiversity. This connects well with our Italian Innovation Day, which we organise annually.

Another relevant ongoing collaboration, the Global Startup Program, promotes the mobility of Italian startups to Japan with the aim of introducing them into the Japanese ecosystem of research and innovation, and to create the conditions for future collaborations.

I believe that there is a lot of potential for enhanced collaboration between Italy and Japan among our research centres and industries related to the goal of climate neutrality by 2050. Italy successfully accelerated the deployment of renewable sources for electricity production, and this experience led to the development of unique skills in smart grids. Italy is now the world leader in the field. So, I believe that there are many interesting opportunities for new bilateral collaborations and joint initiatives in this area.

Could you give some details about Italy’s new business matching platform?
The new CDP Business Matching digital platform — a project of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in collaboration with Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (the Italian Development Finance Institution) —promotes connections and partnerships between Italian and Japanese companies, in particular SMEs, with the help of artificial intelligence algorithms.

The platform enables firms that sign up and indicate their business goals and interests to find a matching company in the other country, to organise B2B meetings, to participate in digital events, and to stay up to date with the latest news and trends in the Italian and Japanese markets. This innovative tool will facilitate exports and strengthen these firms’ competitiveness in the global market. It can also help to overcome the physical limitations imposed by the pandemic.

Could you tell me about Italy’s nation-branding campaign, “Italy is simply extraordinary: #beIT”?
It is the first nation-branding campaign ever launched in our country. The campaign — promoted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Italian Trade Agency — officially launched on 29 December by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio and will continue around the world until August. It involves the entire diplomatic–consular network.

The campaign is aimed primarily at the public of 26 target countries, including Japan, and it has two objectives. The first is to tell the international public, in an original and innovative way, about Italy: its values, its people’s skills, and its extraordinary potential. The second objective is to support greater internationalisation of the main supply chains of our production system. It is an innovative initiative that presents a unified, coordinated image of Italy abroad, told through six values: creativity, innovation, heritage, passion, style, and diversity.

The main tool of the campaign is the communication hub, accessible at www.madeinitaly.gov.it, which has a dedicated section in Japanese. Starting this month, there will be various digital initiatives to promote the campaign in Japan. To learn more about the campaign, I encourage readers to visit the communication hub and to follow the official Instagram account of the campaign (@officialbe.it), as well as the Embassy of Italy’s social media accounts: Twitter @ItalyinJapan Instagram @italyinjapan