Pier Paolo Celeste Director, Moscow Office, Coordinator Russian Federation, Byelorussia and Armenia

The Italian Trade Agency has a new Director, Pier Paolo Celeste. Here is what he told MeL about the general Italian-Russian trade situation and his experiences so far working here (editor).

What is the situation regarding Italian-Russian trade?

Russia has reduced its imports of products from all over the World: the latest figures (May 2016) indicate a fall of 11% compared to the same period of 2015.
Considering the Italian situation vis-à-vis that of the other first ten countries trading with Russia, we managed to soften the decrease in the import of Italian product (-6.4%). By way of comparison, China suffered a -9% drop, Germany -7.5%, the USA -31%, Turkey -56%, Japan -19%, and Korea -15%.
However the situation is to be taken seriously because in the last 18 months, Italy lost two places in the trade partner ranking with Russia. Today our country is the 6th supplier and the 6th client of Russian Federation. In financial terms, the total loss of our bilateral trade is significant: close to 50% (€6.6 bln in May)! “The situation is particularly critical considering the structure of the Italian economy that consists for its large majority (93%) of micro/small/medium companies, that are masters of creativity, artisanship and quality, but less competitive in financial terms.”
The economic crisis combined with the sanctions made us lose terrain in two primary sectors: Machinery (-22.1%) and Furnishings & Building materials (-22.9%). Nevertheless, a close examination of the Russian macro sectors imports from Italy reveals a consolidated positive trend in several important categories: Fashion & Accessories (9.4%), Food & Beverage (15.4%), Transportation vehicles (41.6%), Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals (14.1%).

When is the economic situation likely to improve in your opinion?

I strongly hope that the sanctions will be lifted by the beginning of next year. The current situation is not only due to them, nevertheless their relaxation will bring an overhaul breath of optimism in the business environment that will trigger an energetic bounce in trade.
Even though it is unlikely that we will see the price levels of the past in the close future, the situation will significantly improve if commodity prices continue their upward trend, leading to a recovery in consumption and investment. After the -3.7% GDP fall in 2015, the slight increase of the past months has allowed the manufacturing sector to stay at the same level of 2015 and some leading indicators are adjusting their trend to reasonably forecast a change of a mere -0.8% in this year’s GDP.
If this growth gears up, the global economic environment will receive a boost in the medium term that, bolstered by the stabilization of the banking system, will help investments and encourage much needed legislative changes.

What do you think of Moscow and working with Russians?

I must say that every single day in Moscow brings me a new and surprising experience. During the day, the city is thriving with urbanistic and cultural projects in a continuous process that never seems to end. In the evening, the shades of Moscow’s red sunsets astonish me, leading the way to nights of lights sparkling with a thousand colours enchantingly reflected in the dark waters of the Moskva. I enjoy living in Moscow more than I had ever imagined, despite the traffic.
Century-old ties link Russia and Italy in a way that can be strongly sensed in the relations between our people: a close collaboration with Russians is both beneficial and strategic for Italians. Someone even said that Russians and Italians share the same sentiments and the same habits.
Every day more and more people seek the support of our Agency to establish or consolidate their businesses with Italy. The constantly increasing numbers show the growth of a new entrepreneurial fervour, this brings a new emerging class of men and women willing to do business with our country in almost every activity and every sector.
We witness great enthusiasm, sometimes devoid of knowledge of the basic rules. Precisely this makes our role crucial to transform such will and resolution into concrete and sustainable projects by facilitating contacts, deepen business relationships, and skilfully providing professional assistance to wisely identify the right partner and celebrate ‘corporate weddings’ that may last forever.
On a more personal view, working with my Russian colleagues is a pleasure: they are precise, professional, highly educated, dedicated, enthusiastic and fun, an aspect never to be ignored.
Each member of my staff represents the crème de la crème of Russian and Italian qualities combined. I am proud to say that our work and the initiatives masterminded and implemented in each of our offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk, is effective and productive and the work that lies ahead of us in the short and medium term, will be critical in building the future of Italian-Russian economic relationships.