Belt and Road did not benefit Italy as expected, says foreign minister

Trade between China and Italy has not improved as expected since Rome joined China-sponsored Belt and Road Initiative in 2019, the Italian foreign minister said Saturday.

'If we analyze it, it did not bring the results we expected,' Antonio Tajani said at the European House - Ambrosetti, an annual international economic forum, in Cernobbio, northern Italy, ahead of leaving for China Saturday afternoon for a three-day diplomatic mission.

He said last year's trade figures between the two countries are lower than those between China and France and China and Germany.

Italy signed the accord with China despite the protests of allies, such as the US and the EU, and was the first major Western nation doing it.

Under the accord, the two countries agreed to carry out business deals in many sectors ranging from energy and transport to industry and finance, and implement jointly financed infrastructure projects.

'Parliament will have to assess and decide whether to renew or not our participation in this project,' Tajani said.

The agreement between China and Italy expires in March next year and Italy has until December to formally withdraw from it, otherwise the partnership will be extended for five years.

The top diplomat also said the country should forge ahead with the privatization of state-owned assets and government-controlled companies, or at least parts of them.

In particular, he said Rome should accelerate with the divestment of its majority stake in Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena. The troubled Tuscan bank was nationalized in 2017 after it failed to find enough private capital to stay afloat. Italy's government still owns a 64% stake in the bank.

'The state must not become a banker, therefore it is right to proceed (with the sale),' he said. 'For me, the sooner, the better.'

However, it has not been easy for the government to find a buyer for the lender. Two years ago, monthlong talks between the government and Italy's second-largest bank UniCredit collapsed. Other Italian banks consistently showed no interest in buying Rome's stake in Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena.

Tajani also called for a reform of EU rules, which would make European companies more competitive at global level.

'Europe must not only be a large market but needs to have the ability to compete at industrial level,' he said. 'We need a real EU industrial policy which allows (European companies) to compete at global levels otherwise EU rules risk suffocating European companies at global level.'

Source: Anadolu Agency