“Italy deems it essential to strengthen bilateral economic
and political relations with Japan”

Strong ties through the highs and lows

Ambassador of Italy to Japan Giorgio Starace


March 2020 The Interview / Text by Andrew Howitt / Photos by Benjamin Parks

For three years, Ambassador of Italy to Japan Giorgio Starace has been successfully promoting trade, businesses, and culture from Italy in Japan. With the EU–Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) firmly in place, the Tokyo 2020 Games around the corner and the embassy’s packed calendar of events, he expects that this will be another great year in Italy–Japan relations.

What are some areas of focus for the embassy this year?

We attach great importance to the implementation of the EPA and the Strategic Partnership Agreement, which have been in force since February 2019. They are key tools for deepening our cooperation and dialogue in strategic fields and for increasing our bilateral trade and investment flows. To this end, the embassy is working in close synergy with the EU Delegation in Tokyo and representatives of the other EU member states to promote joint initiatives and projects. Italy deems it essential to strengthen bilateral economic and political relations with Japan.

This year, we will continue to support the internationalisation of Italian companies in the Japanese market. Of paramount importance is innovation, and we will strongly support innovative Italian startups and SMEs in building partnerships with Japanese companies.

For the fifth edition of the Italian Innovation Day — organised in close cooperation with JETRO and Invitalia, and scheduled to be held in October — the embassy is arranging for 15 innovative Italian startups to come to Japan and meet Japanese investors. We are also planning the first edition of the Italy–Japan Innovation Forum, which the embassy is organising with the University of Tokyo.

How have you seen Italy benefitting from the EPA?

Last year, the total value of Italian exports to Japan increased 19.7% (€7.7 billion) compared with 2018, based on data from the Italian Institute of Statistics. This was the greatest growth among Italy’s extra-EU trading partners. We also registered a 9.4% (€4.1 billion) increase in imports from Japan. We can consider the EPA a win–win agreement as its implemen-tation has had very positive results so far.

We are also very satisfied looking at the data by sector, released by the Japanese Ministry of Finance, relating to the period between February and October 2019. In the first nine months of the EPA, we have seen an increase in the total value of food and beverage imports and fashion imports from Italy of 13.7% and 10.2%, respectively, compared with the same period in 2018. Regarding wine imports, in particular, their value has grown by 20% — and by more than 30% for sparkling wine — thanks to the abolition of tariffs under the EPA.

Are you seeing a growing interest in Italy from Japan in terms of foreign direct investment (FDI)?

Attracting Japanese FDI to Italy is a major element of our mission. According to JETRO, in the first three quarters of 2019, Italy recorded a very good trend of Japanese outward FDI, which reached $1.1 billion, with very important acquisitions by some major Japanese companies. The merger between Calsonic Kansei and Magneti Marelli, finalised in 2019, was worth $6.2 billion. This is a key strategic alliance that brings together the best of Italian innovation and Japanese industrial capacity.

From the Italian perspective, the embassy is witnessing a growing interest in the Japanese market, also thanks to the EPA.



What is happening in the area of cultural exchange?

The year 2020 will be an extraordinary one for cultural relations between Italy and Japan. We are scheduling an impressive calendar of events including exhibitions, such as one featuring works from the Capitoline Museums, and opera. Two of the most important Italian opera companies will perform: the Massimo Theater and, for the very first time, La Scala. We will also be celebrating the centenary of Federico Fellini.

Italian cultural excellence will be on display in Japan during the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Could you tell me about the embassy’s Thermae Romae campaign?

It is a video advertising campaign created in collaboration with Kadokawa Group and the manga artist Mari Yamazaki, who is the author of the very successful Thermae Romae comics. It is aimed at promoting Italian tourist attractions and culture in Japan, with a focus on nature, music, food and history in general, rather than specific, traditionally popular tourist destinations. This is in line with Italy’s tourism promotion strategy, which is attempting to foster decentralised, experience-centric tourism.

We have released a series of eight videos on the embassy’s official SNS platforms. They are also being shown on screens in trains and at train stations within the Tokyo metropolitan area.

What does the embassy have planned for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics?

In order to prepare our national hospitality house for the Olympics, the embassy is working in close cooperation with the Italian national Olympic and Paralympic committees along with Italian institutions based in Japan, such as the consulate general in Osaka, the Trade Promotion Section of the embassy and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Japan. We will support our national teams and welcome Italian delegations with a very lively and engaging programme, which will incorporate a wide spectrum of promotional activities in many fields, including tourism, fashion, food and beverages, and innovation.

Could you give me an update on the situation in Venice following the flooding in November?

Venice is a great city with wonderful people and is recovering well. The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is promoting the initiative #HelpVenice abroad in cooperation with all the embassies and missions of the Italian Diplomatic Network to raise funds for restoration efforts.

On many occasions, we have invited our Japanese friends to contribute, and we have received a positive response from the public here. I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank everyone who has supported the initiative. Considering the financial amount still needed, we are counting on your continued generosity. People in Japan can help by donating to a bank account opened by the City of Venice for this purpose. Thank you very much. 

“We can consider the EPA a win–win agreement as its implementation
has had very positive results so far”