How did the ITA start?
The Italian trade Agency started its activities in Italy in 1926, and we opened our first office in Moscow in 1966. We now also have offices in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, and office arrangements in Krasnodar and Sochi to take care of the south of the country.
Is the ITA a private or government-run organisation?
The ITA is a 100% government-backed agency, we are under the supervision of the Italian ministry of economic development. Part of our budget is covered by the services that we sell. All basic services are supplied free, but the more complicated services, the tailor-made services are charged for.
What is the mission of the ITA?
To support the internationalisation of the Italian economy and Italian companies. We pay particular attention to SMEs, because Italy has over 4 million companies, and over 90% of them are 15 people or less. When we say that long word internationalisation, we are mainly talking about promoting exports, but also in some cases to support imports, because Italy has to import a lot of industrial raw materials. We are very involved with helping Italian companies invest in Russia.
How do companies join the ITA?
Whenever any Italian company needs help, we operate as a kind of first aid provider. For example, they need a customs code, or they need information for them to enter the market. If we receive 200 emails, we have to send 200 replies. Our work is divided into two main areas. Firstly, we help companies into two parts. Firstly, we provide information and support for companies wishing to export to Russia, secondly, we supply specialised help for individual companies who might want to find a particular kind of business partner and so on, give advise on how to run a business here and so on. When we charge, we charge according to the complexity of the job involved. We also create corporate agreements with some large companies, which helps them and our clients as information is shared.
Some Chambers seem to concentrate more on lobbying, some more on the commercial side; where do you fall between these two activities?
Most countries have such official trade organisations, I think the UK equivalent is the DTI, or in China it is the CCPIT. Of course each country handles this in a slightly different way, but the main idea is the same. Mainly we handle export promotion, sometimes investment promotion, and we do some training. We do not do lobbying, as the government and the Chamber of Commerce do this. We do not follow up political initiatives, because this is the job of the embassy, we also do not get involved with tourism, because we have another organisation, which deals with that.
What are we looking at the moment in terms of trade in comparison to what it was a year ago?
Last year (2013) our trade with Russia was close to â¬31 billion. Two thirds is what Russia has exported to Italy. During the first half of 2014 we experienced a slow down in our exports, mainly because we are buying less oil and gas, raw materials from Russia, and also Russia is buying less products from us. Over 40% of our exports are made up of technological goods and services. This year, another 20% of our exports were semi-finished products, things that Russia uses in its own industrial processes. 10% is food, 9% is fashion, then we have transportation and furniture. Russia really needs technology and we Europeans are good at producing it.
How long have you been living in Russia?
I arrived in 2013, directly form Shanghai, where I spent 13 years as the head of the ITA in China. I was really happy to be assigned to another very important country. Our exports to Russia are even a little higher than our exports to China, which is amazing given the difference in populations between Russia and China. So far, my wife and me have been pleasantly surprised about this country. The first surprise is Moscow itself, it has turned out to be a very beautiful city. It is quite well organised, apart from the traffic problem. You have all the services you need, expensive but quite well organised. The weather has its own problems, but in Shanghai it was hot and polluted. The people here are very nice, once you get to know them. They have quite a high level of culture, they are in love with Italy and Italian products. On a business level, you have to accept that this is a different country with its own rules, that this is Russia.
To find out more about ITA in Russia, please see the web site: www.italtrade.com/rossija