Reintroducing Italy

When you heard the name “Italy”, there are some things come to mind, such as: fashion, leather, football, and of course, food, especially pizza and pasta. However, after talking to Alessandro Liberatori, the Italian Trade Agency’s (ITA) Commissioner, we found out that we barely scratch the surface of what Italy is all about. Actually, it’s a revelation, just as Indonesian is not just about batik, Rendang, Nasi Goreng, and Bali.

How have you been in Indonesia?

A little bit more than 2 years. I started my mandate in Indonesia on November 9th, 2015, exactly the same day the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella, started his official visit in Indonesia. It was the first ever visit of our Head of State to Indonesia, so my start was really encouraging and promising, considering that Indonesia is becoming more and more important as a focus country compared to the past and that our economies are quite complementary.

Would you mind explaining about ITA and its roles?
It’s a governmental agency in charge of supporting Italian companies, mostly small to medium size companies, willing to establish trade and economic relations with foreign businesses. Italian Trade Agency is at the disposal of all Italian companies asking to be assisted, supported and accompanied in foreign markets: to find the right partners, agents, distributors, to open a business overseas, to establish a joint venture with a local company, to have information on the country in generale and, more specifically on local market and sectorial regulations, on business environment and so on.

We are also in charge of promoting Italian investment abroad and attracting foreign investment to Italy through different lines of activities. We have more than 70 offices all around the world, so it’s a really worldwide network. We have our headquarters in Rome, Italy, we have office in Milan as well. We’ve been opening our Jakarta office in 1979, so in 2 years we’ll be celebrating our 40th anniversary of activity in this country.

Last year we have been directly assisting more than 300 Italian companies looking at Indonesia as a potential market. Despite the fact that Italy is universally known mostly for its fashion and food industry, which is, of course, very important for our economy, actually the biggest contributor of our GDP is technology: equipment, machineries, capital goods, industrial systems, etc., in all sectors. This is the real picture of our economy. Also in Indonesia the biggest share of our export is originated by technology and machineries. Moreover Indonesia is nowadays one of the most important market priority in our government promotional strategies and activities. Probably this happens for the first time in the history of our almost 80 years long lasting bilateral relations.

What happened in the past few years that made Indonesia become the first priority countries for Italy?
The country is having a big growth. It is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. GDP has been constantly increasing by about 5% per year in the last decade even in difficult times during the global recession. Still growing much more compared to most European countries recent economic performances.

I’m glad to hear that!

It’s true. It’s has been a tough period in Europe, and in Italy too. We have had for almost a decade, recession or stagnation, financial problems, declining industrial output, increasing unemployment. Luckily in the last a couple of years Italy has been substantially recovering. We will have this year an economic growth close to +2%. 

South East Asia and China are among the regions in the world that are growing faster. We have been carring out some recent surveys and analysis showing that there is still a big delta between the present trade and investment volume and value between Italy and Indonesia and the potential one that is 10 times bigger. So there is a lot a ground for further enhance our cooperation and we do not have to lose momentum.

And, I repeat, Indonesia and Italy have complementary economies, not competing ones. You are so rich in raw materials and commodities, natural and fossile (palm oil, rubber, coal, gas, oil, copper, tin, etc.). On the other side, Italy doesn't have raw material. We are a transforming country. So we process raw materials we import from other countries to produce high quality consumer goods and capital goods. Our technological and industrial capabilities have been forged during centuries dating back to the great artisanal and artistic development of our Renaissance over 500 years ago and updated thanks during the industrial revolution. As a result, we can offer extremely high quality for reasonable prices, customization according to the customer request, versatility, sustainability, sophistication, etc. We are the 8th industrial world power in the world.

The Italian Trade Agency is basically the pillar of the economic promotion of Italy abroad. Actually we act also as Trade Promotion Office of the Italian Embassy in Jakarta.

What do you consider as the single biggest challenge for ITA?

There are many challenges actually, but in general, we have to inform more both the Indonesia business community and the common public about what Italy really is nowadays. A modern and technologically advanced country. We don’t really know well each other, you can tell from the stereotypes. For example, when you think about technology, it’s Germany the first country you think of or others. But as a matter of fact we are the second industrial economy in Europe and the second exporting countries. This year we will break the record reaching approx 350 Billion Euros of export all over the world. You think of Italy as for tourism, monuments, holidays, fashion shopping and culinary experience It’s surely part of the story but not the entire story. We need to transfer this new image of our country, that not only common people, even the upper class don’t know about. This is one of the biggest challenges for us.

How about the trade barrier?
Yes. we have some obstacles as regards duties, taxes, administrative barriers, product registrations, certificates and standards, etc. in some sectors especially in the food and consumer goods. It’s not only for Italy but for all European countries. NevertheIess I am sure that we will be able to overcome these obstacles once European Union and Indonesia will have finalized the ongoing negotiations of EU-Indonesia Comprehensive Economic Partnership, making much easier access to European markets for Indonesian goods and services and to Indonesian market for European goods and services.

Indonesia is rich in raw materials, has a huge market and labour force, a fast growing middle class and increasingly better infrastructure; Indonesia has the potential to be the leader in the region. I would say one of the biggest economies in the world. I can’t see any obstacles for Indonesia to be among the biggest 5-6 players in the world by the next fifteen years. 

Okay, let’s talk about food. I heard you’re into Mediterranean diet?

Yes, since I was born. Actually Mediterranean diet is the Italian diet. Mediterranean diet is very popular thanks to Italian food, which was well-known all around the world for its healthy, fresh, low calories ingredients, etc. There’s a survey recently published by Bloomberg, where it was stated that thanks to Mediterranean diet, Italian is the healthiest people in the world.

When we talk about Mediterranean diet we’re talking about an incredibly wide range of food products. In Italy, there are 20 different regions. We would like to be able to communicate that each region, better said, each village has its own secular food culinary tradition. You move to one village to other ones in 10 km radius, then it’s completely different: recipes, ingredients, and ways of combining these ingredients. The richness of Italian diet is extraordinary. When I travel throughout Italy, I always discover new things that I never experienced before, and of course, all of them are exquisite, delicious.

Just to say, we have more than 200 types of pastas, not to mention the cheese, we have 400 types of cheese, not just Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padana or the very famous Gorgonzola, can you imagine? It’s the reason why our diet is very popular: basically we have the northern, southern, and center Italy, we have variety of products that we mix together, so it’s like living in 3 different hemispheres.

I heard the vegetables and fruits in Italy are fantastic.
Again we have such a great variety of fruits thanks to the shape of our country placing North, Center and South at different latitudes We are big producers of apples, oranges, lemons, plums, pears, peaches, apricots, strawberries, grapes, water melon, honey melon, kiwi. This is quite unknown. The biggest kiwi producer in the world Is Italy and not New Zealand that is the second. And in Indonesia you can find kiwis from Italy in all supermarkets. The reason why we produces kiwi is basically the fact that New Zealand’s weather is similar to Mediterranean one. Not to mention oranges (and other agrumes) coming from Sicily region and Southern Italy in general. Our oranges, in particular the ''Tarocco'' type from Sicily, are so tasty, juicy and sweet. You can eat it, you can squash it to have juice, you can use it in cooking, etc. As regards vegetable we have again a big variety: tomatos, salads, broccolis, eggplants, zucchini, spinach, etc.

What sort of campaigns you have made to promote Italian food?
We have an ongoing promotion of Italian food in cooporation with the Ranch Market Group. In fact, this is the largest promotion we’ve have ever been doing in Indonesia as a country, in the food sector until now. It lasts from November 17th 2017 to the end of the year in 23 Ranch Market and Farmers Market stores, and we have already received very positive feedbacks in terms of appreciation, awareness and sales.

We have 2 goals: the first one is to sell more Italian products and make Indonesian consumers more aware of our presence, and then the second is to fight the ""Italian sounding products" and counterfeited products which are doing a big damage to our industry. Such products are using Italian names, flags, logos, or images, not being products from Italy. Consumers are really willing to buy Italian products once they know the quality and benefits originating from our authentic, genuine products from Italy, What often happens instead that there are several non Italian companies that sell low quality products at higher prices only because they use Italian names or sounding logos and images. We need to protect consumers against such a negative phenomenon.

What I adore about Italian food, is the simplicity.
We are not putting any sauce to cover other ingredients. Of course, we have basic sauce but only one main ingredient, we don’t put sauces or toppings to cover other flavours or to give taste to the food. The food gives us the flavor. I realize many Indonesian people think Italian foods are not tasty so they need to put something on them. For us it’s the opposite. It’s a different approach. But exactly as you said, you got the point: simplicity. I like simple food, really simple, also in the restaurant. I don’t like too sophisticated food, I like more the traditional way. Actually when I go out for lunch or dinner, I search for the same type of quality, authentic and healthy food I usually eat at home enriched by some original ingredients' combination or new flavours.