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New Italian Trade Agency president Scannavino vows to make on-line exports a top priority

by Carmine Fotina

Michele Scannavino, 57, President of the Italian Trade Agency since last June after a 32-year experience in the private sector, has set himself the goal of reversing Italy’s negative records in on-line exports and of revising priorities, in terms of geographical areas and sectors, also in light of the slowdown in global trade.

FOTINA: For the first time in 15 years, international trade is growing less than GDP. What’s the scenario for Italy?

SCANNAVINO: Within the context of the global slowdown, the trend for Italian exports in 2016 has been flat. It then becomes important to be able to tap in our favor some of the ongoing dynamics; in the engineering sector, for instance, which will play a central role in our plan for 2017.

FOTINA: Why are you going to focus on capital goods so much?

SCANNAVINO: Precisely because a few of the factors behind the slowdown in world trade can turn to our advantage. Just think of China and Russia, which are increasingly fueling domestic demand with domestic production. This will translate into a growing need for technology and therefore greater leeway for our engineering industry.

FOTINA: You’ve gone from the corporate world to a public agency. What kind of changes do you intend to bring about?

SCANNAVINO: I have spent the past fourteen years between France and the US, developing international brands. My task now is boosting the brand of Italian-made products throughout the range of its unexpressed potential, and it’s an extremely stimulating mission. I found a solidly performing organization at the Italian Trade Agency but I mean to update some of its working and connect it better with the new areas of growth. This means, above all, greater presence in the new consumer channels like the digital world.

FOTINA: Are Italian businesses ready?

SCANNAVINO: We’re almost starting from scratch, unfortunately. Digital exports account for a mere 2% of total goods, 4% if we only take into account consumer goods. Only 10% of Italian businesses sell on-line and only 25% uses the Web for their purchases, we're at the bottom of the list in Europe. We absolutely have to catch up.

FOTINA: What kind of efforts do you guarantee on this front?

SCANNAVINO: For 2017, we have allocated €25 million to “digital economy and Industry 4.0,” out of the plan’s total €203 million, increasing allocation by 17% versus 2016. We aim to get our SMEs to grow on the major on-line trade portals, starting with those of China and the US. We have to create the conditions to group small businesses together that would not otherwise be able to access these channels on their own, owing to the complex issues and costs involved. We’re already negotiating with a few of the largest retail platforms on the web to launch Italian-made products. We’re going to be flanking these with on-location events that will help create visibility and therefore on-line traffic.

FOTINA: What is a realistic goal one can expect to achieve?

SCANNAVINO: Countries ahead of us have a percentage of on-line exports as high as 12-13%. Over the next 3 to 5 years, I hope to at least double our current 4%. Let’s bear in mind that the US and China, where we’ve begun to correspond with Alibaba as well as other portals like Jd.com and VIPcom, account for 60% of world e-commerce. Growth prospects are amazing, especially in consumer goods that enhance Italian craftsmanship, as in fashion, furnishings and agro-food. I count on implementing our first projects over the next three to six months.

FOTINA: In the meantime, don’t we risk losing ground in the traditional channels?

SCANNAVINO: We certainly will not neglect the traditional channel, which we’re going to keep reinforcing with a series of activities in the trade fair sector and with focused projects – I’m thinking of the wine world, for instance. Next year, we’re launching an “Italian Wine Weeks” program in the US, getting ready for an Italian-led wine fair.

FOTINA: Do you fear a backlash from US President Donald Trump’s possible protectionist policies?

SCANNAVINO: It’s still too early to speculate on the possible nature of protectionist measures the new US Administration may want to adopt, and their ultimate impact on Italian production. I trust that Europe will engage in a constructive dialogue with the new President on these issues very soon.