Italy: A Partner in Progress

Ambassador Antonio Alessandro received the Colors Business magazine team with warm greetings and a disarming smile to his residence, which is well decorated with creations done by his wife. Decked out in a blue shirt, yellow tie and blue linen jacket, the envoy personifies Italian sartorial elegance. He thinks it is time to take bilateral relations to a strategic alliance as Bangladesh is preparing to graduate from LDC in 2026. There are a lot of areas Italy can be a partner in development growth. The interview over a scrumptious luncheon with Ziaul Karim, Advisory Editor of Colors Business, turned into an engrossing discussion about trade business, investment climate and shared prosperity.

With Italy ranking as the sixth largest export destination for Bangladesh, boasting a bilateral trade volume surpassing $3.5 billion in 2022-23, the Ambassador highlights the pivotal role played by sectors such as ready-made garments, leather goods, ceramics, and light engineering. Against this backdrop of economic collaboration, Ambassador Alessandro opened a new vista of opportunities to elevate trade and investment to greater heights.

Ambassador Antonio Alessandro is an ardent advocate of Bangladesh’s development growth

Drawing upon the fiscal year 2021-2022, where Bangladesh’s exports to Italy soared to $1.7 billion, while imports from Italy totalled $554.70 million, the diplomat unveils strategic pathways for expansion. From fostering synergies in emerging industries to nurturing cross-border partnerships, His Excellency, Antonio Alessandro outlines a roadmap poised to unlock the full potential of bilateral trade and investment.

Fostering Bilateral Trade and Investments
The ambassador says, “Italian companies are very happy with their trade exchanges with Bangladesh. Italy is at the same time a huge buyer of RMG and a major “seller” of industrial machinery and technology for the textile sector. New trade opportunities lie in the diversification of the Bangladeshi export structure: from cotton-made textiles to more value-added fabrics and techniques; from textiles to other sectors such as agri-food, pharma, IT, energy and more. Italian companies are ready to provide the machines and technological solutions that are needed for such diversification to be sustainable and competitive,” His Excellency denotes.

Against the backdrop of Bangladesh’s remarkable achievement in attracting $3.5 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) during the 2022-23 fiscal year, Ambassador Antonio Alessandro underscores the pivotal role of the government’s efforts to enhance the business environment.

As Bangladesh continues its journey towards economic prosperity, Ambassador Alessandro advocates for a strategic approach, including the consideration of lowering import tariffs. This move aligns with the growing interest among Bengali consumers in embracing Italian products, presenting a compelling opportunity to further boost bilateral trade and investment between the two nations.

He emphasized that such measures could significantly enhance bilateral trade and attract a greater number of Italian companies to the Bangladesh market. His Excellency deems that it is important to disseminate an updated image of Bangladesh, that of a resilient and big transition economy called to play a major role in the Indo-Pacific region and globally.

Navigating the New Global Landscape
Amidst Bangladesh’s ambitious development agenda, the establishment of 100 Special Economic Zones across strategic locations is nearing fruition, offering comprehensive one-stop facilities. Complementing this initiative, the government is facilitating Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) with an array of incentives. Additionally, the availability of skilled labor at competitive costs further enhances the country’s appeal for investment.

The envoy shares, “After the pandemic the world realized that the “globalization”, as we used to know it, has some limits. There has been a tendency to re-shore or near-shore the supply chains. Labour cost and logistic conditions are not any more the main factors to be considered when deciding on a foreign investment. Labour standards have become a key component of the decision-making process and the different regimes applied in the Special Economic Zones may cause uncertainty in this regard.”

The Italian diplomat emphasises importance of strategic alliances with Bangladesh to take the bilateral relationship to the next level

The diplomat highlighted that the Italian private sector predominantly comprises small and medium enterprises known for their high innovation and dynamism. He pointed out that these companies prioritize specific high-quality and value-added markets over large-scale investments and identified Bangladesh as offering numerous opportunities in this regard. He emphasized that the shared objective between the two countries is to unlock the potential of economic relations, making these opportunities feasible and mutually convenient.

Ambassador Alessandro further explained, “For Italian SMEs, foreign investments are intertwined with trade, suggesting that as trade expands, more investment opportunities will emerge. This underscores a reciprocal relationship where trade and investment mutually reinforce growth prospects.”

Developing Skilled Workers
Significant strides have been made in the migration landscape between Italy and Bangladesh, particularly in the intake of skilled workers. With the largest number of workers migrating to Italy under the Flussi Decree hailing from Bangladesh, the two nations have solidified their commitment to bilateral migration and mobility. A pivotal agreement was reached during the Italy- Bangladesh Political Consultations held in Rome in June 2023, wherein Italy pledged to accept skilled workers from Bangladesh, focusing on sectors such as construction, shipbuilding, and hospitality.
According to the envoy, the Italian Government has significantly increased the number of foreign workers to match the need for manpower of the Italian economy. As a result, Bangladeshi migrants have been very successful in getting a large share of these increased quotas.

“The Bangladeshi community living in Italy, the largest in the EU, is a strong pull factor in this regard. It contributes significantly to the well-being of Italy and is also an important source of remittances for Bangladesh with 1.2 billion euros transferred in 2022,” the ambassador shares.

“It is the common objective of both countries to make our migration relations increasingly safer, more ordered and mutually beneficial. We work together, on the one hand, to prevent irregular flows, exploitation of migrants and the undue role of illegal intermediaries and, on the other hand, to improve the quality of legal migration through pre-departure training and better recruitment.

Above all, we need to stop the trafficking of human beings through the Mediterranean route, where many lives are lost every year, including some from Bangladesh,” he further adds.

The Italian Ambassador stresses the shared goal of fostering safer, more orderly, and mutually beneficial migration relations between Italy and Bangladesh while highlighting the imperative to combat human trafficking and improve the quality of legal migration channels.

Partner in Progress
Following the recent Rome Consultations, where both nations expressed a strong desire to deepen their relations across various sectors, including trade, investment, technology intervention in the textile sector, defense, security, ICT, agriculture, migration, and mobility, there have been significant developments.

The ambassador shares that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Rome in July 2023 marked a pivotal moment, as she met with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. During this visit, the two leaders oversaw the signing of agreements on culture and energy, signalling a commitment to expanding relations beyond traditional sectors like textiles to more innovative areas such as aerospace. Notably, two additional agreements on defense and mobility are nearing conclusion, further solidifying the growing partnership between Italy and Bangladesh.

Exploring New Areas of Opportunities
Amidst Bangladesh’s remarkable success in the ready-made garments sector, where ‘Made in Bangladesh’ has become a reputable brand in the global market, Italy’s significant partnership in Bangladesh’s garment industry development is characterized by the prevalence of Italian industrial machinery in Bangladeshi factories. There’s a mutual aspiration to venture into more value-added segments. The Italian Ambassador expresses pride in this collaboration and emphasizes Italy’s commitment to supporting Bangladesh in emerging segments like recycling, sustainable fashion, and fashion design.
The diplomat acclaims, “Bangladesh’s graduation as a developing country raises concerns about post-LDC challenges. Bangladesh has expressed interest in GSP support to maintain favourable access to European markets.”

Ambassador Alessandro acknowledges Bangladesh’s efforts in meeting human rights and labor requirements under the GSP+ system and advocates for a gradual increase in tariffs to sustain development progress. Additionally, he encourages the Bangladeshi private sector to enhance quality and labor standards to boost competitiveness in mature markets, underlining the importance of self-confidence in navigating a balanced tariff scheme.

Facilitating People-to-People Connections
Amidst the recent pause in people-to-people and business-to-business interactions following the elections in Bangladesh, Italy has initiated several key initiatives to reinvigorate these connections.
Italy is spearheading efforts such as a forthcoming design program scheduled for May in Dhaka, aimed at fostering creative exchanges and business collaborations. Additionally, plans are underway for a comprehensive presentation of Bangladesh to the Italian business sector in Italy, providing a platform to showcase the country’s economic potential and investment opportunities. Furthermore, an Italian archaeological mission of experts to Bangladesh and Bangladesh’s pavilion to the Venice Biennale underscore the two countries’ commitment to cultural exchange and academic collaboration.

While tourism flows between the two countries remain relatively low, the recent launch of a new direct flight route between Dhaka and Rome by Biman Airways holds promise for boosting tourism in both directions. His Excellency believes that with these concerted efforts, Italy aims to strengthen people-to-people connections, spur trade and investment development, and unlock the full potential of bilateral relations between Italy and Bangladesh.

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