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The Warsaw Voice » Other » May 28, 2008
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Building on Solid Foundations
May 28, 2008   
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Trade between Poland and Italy has doubled over the past six years. Louis Jacob speaks to Francesco Alfonsi, director of the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade (I.C.E.), who says such a rapid increase was made possible by Italy's long-standing faith in the Polish market.

What kind of services do you provide?
The Italian Institute for Foreign Trade is a government agency that operates in collaboration with the Italian embassy. The organization was established 85 years ago. We have operated in Poland since 1959, where we try to help Italian firms who want to invest in foreign markets and to export. We do this by setting up commercial and industrial partnerships. Italy is one of the leading manufacturers in the world, but doesn't have a lot of raw materials, so we try to find producers of things like wood or metal for Italian importers, and we put them in contact with each other. With this in mind, we organize a lot of promotional activities. We carry out between 80 to 100 events every year. When Poland was selected to host the Euro 2012 European soccer championships together with Ukraine, for example, we organized a presentation in Italy to show Italian companies what's on offer in Poland. This was a great opportunity for businesspeople to meet and discuss ways in which they could work together.

Does the I.C.E. conduct any lobbying activities in the Polish government on behalf of Italian companies?
The embassy has direct contact with the government and they work together all the time. However, the I.C.E. lobby is on a different level-we have direct contact with local administrations in the cities and the regions and they are very open to cooperation. I think there is still a lot of work to do in this area. For instance, Poland is missing an organization like ours. They work very hard but the structures aren't there yet to take advantage of the opportunities available.

How interesting is the Polish market compared to its neighbors in Central and Eastern Europe?
Poland is our biggest market in Central and Eastern Europe. We also operate in the neighboring countries, but there is no comparison. Just to give you a figure, the commercial balance between Poland and Italy works out at about 13 billion euros, having doubled in six years, which is a dramatic increase.

The increase of Polish exports to Italy is even higher than the increase from Italy to Poland, which is incredible, because the Italian market started over 100 years ago whereas the Polish market has only been developing properly for 10 or 15 years. So Poland is doing very well, and this is very interesting for Italy. We are the second-largest importer of Polish products, after Germany. And Italy is the fourth largest exporter to Poland, after Germany, Russia and China, and if you consider that Russia exports mainly energy, that makes Italy the third largest exporter of consumer goods. You must remember that it was Italian companies like Fiat who first took the risk of investing in Poland before 1981 when other companies wouldn't come here, because we believed that Poland, as a nation, had a big future. And now Fiat is the biggest producer of cars in Poland, and Poland is one of the leading car producers in Europe. Fiat has produced as many cars in Poland as Volkswagen and Opel combined. Not just that, but the president of Fiat Poland is now the vice-president of Lewiatan, the Polish association of entrepreneurs. It shows that the faith Italian companies showed in Poland when the economic climate was a lot different has led to a very strong bond economically between the countries. So now you can see that the Polish market is of huge interest to Italy and vice versa.

Does the I.C.E. also help Polish companies by looking for export opportunities in Italy?
All the time. For example, when an Italian manufacturing company wants to source raw materials such as wood, they contact us and we try to set them up with suppliers in Poland. Equally if a Polish company has a product to export, they can come to us and we can try to find a market in Italy for them and it works very well. We also set up fairs in Italy for representatives from Polish companies to travel there and to see what's on offer. Right now, we have 15 delegates from Polish furniture producing companies visiting a fair in Italy, about wood-working technology and machinery. We organize missions like this all the time. These efforts are important for developing lasting ties between the two countries.

Your four-year term in Poland will come to an end in July. What will you miss the most?
I won't miss anything about Poland because I will carry Poland everywhere with me. I have loved every moment, working and living in Poland, and I will never forget my time here. Viva la Polonia!
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