Pietro Panarello is the first Secretary of Trade and Cultural Affairs for the Italian Embassy in Ethiopia. Panerello believes that the relationship between Ethiopia and Italy is in a tremendous stage after the Ethio- Eritrea peace accord and the high level visit of both prime ministers Conte and Abiy. As the two countries marked 130 years of diplomatic ties, they are to make the first ever Italian – Ethiopian business forum in Addis Ababa next week. Capital met Panarello to talk about the forum and the trade between the two countries.
Capital: The Italian-Ethiopian business forum will be held in Addis Ababa for the first time, why now?
Pietro Panarello: Over the last two years Ethiopia and Italy’s relationship has been growing, especially after Prime Minister, Professor Conte’s visit. It was symbolic because it came after, Ethiopia and Eretria signed a peace agreement ending 20 years of war. This was a display of all the ways Italy wants to be close to countries in the horn of Africa in this particular period of political and economic transformation. The economic forum is a result from the visits of Professor Conte and then Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to Italy in January. It is time to bring private companies together in order to introduce them to this important market as Ethiopia is a country of 110 million people, a country that is basically composed of a rural economy but that is struggling to transform to an industrial economy. PM Abiy highlighted during an interview with international media a wish to integrate the region’s economy.
Capital: How many Italian companies are expected to participate in the first Italian Ethiopian Business forum, what is the objective?
Panarello: The forum will bring more than 50 Italian companies to Ethiopia led by Italian Deputy Minster of Foreign Affairs and International cooperation, Prof. Emmanuela del Re to meet 150 local private companies in three sections, including infrastructure, textile, leather and agro processing stakeholders and respective local private sector representatives.
The annual, historic, forum will bring primary influencers of each sector, associations and the policy makers’ together.
Capital: What makes the Business forum Historic?
Panarello: What makes the forum special is that it came to Ethiopia as the two countries were set to celebrate 130 years of diplomatic relationship following up the official visit of Ethiopian Prime Minister and PM Guiseppe Conte visit to Ethiopia at the start of this year.
Capital: What is the aim of the business forum and how important is it?
Panarello: We are aiming at first connection for Italian business presenting themselves to Ethiopia for many years since the 1950’s and some Italian companies coming for the first time to Ethiopia especially in those sectors that are considered top priorities in Ethiopia. We believe that Italian private companies are well known and top ones both in Europe and the world so these are the kind of companies that can benefit a country like Ethiopia. Unlike other countries in African continent there are not many mineral resources. However, there is a very important well trained work force that we can cultivate and introduce new skills particularly in textiles, agro processing leather and other sectors where Ethiopia is unique. and also because we think many big multi-national companies have started to understand the importance of considering the logistical position of Ethiopia and the presence of the young workforce in order to develop a hub to export to Europe and the Middle East it is the position that Ethiopia can develop and it’s time to invest in Ethiopia in infrastructure and logistics because Ethiopia has already began to build agro processing industrial parks and it is time to build skills in these kind of parks. We knew after the peace agreement with Eretria, many importers wanted to be closer Ethiopia to the Red Sea and were developing a new exit strategy for their exports apart from the Djibouti Port. So Italy wants to get behind to historical process to be a vanguard and display to Ethiopian the business community and government that Italian private companies are ready to establish a very effective collaboration.
Capital: Ethiopia and Italy have a long term diplomatic relationship what about trade?
Panarello: You know that Ethiopia and Italy during the reign of Emperor Hailessilase had a strong trade relationship. Now PM Abiy wants to use the private sector to bring about economic reform and Ethiopia struggles with a shortage of hard currency. NGO’s have been a prime source of the interaction between Italy and Ethiopia, however we expect that to change and the private sector to take a prime role.
Capital: The Italian Government has been giving training on agro processing skills tell us about that and other areas of cooperation.
Panarello: The Italian company Mezodenia is working in Mekele with more than 2,000 employees. There are projects carried out with Italian cooperation, including TVET training, the agro processing sector as Italy is the leader of packaging in the agro processing industry. We will also share dairy experience with the Ethiopian government.
Capital: What is the trade volume between the two countries?
Panarello: In 2018, the value of the Ethio-Italian trade was about 292 million Euros including 235 million from Italian exports and 57 million from Ethiopian exports to Italy which increased by 15.2 percent compared to the previous year.
Capital: What about the amount of Italian Foreign direct Investment?
Panarello: In 2017; Italian foreign direct investment in Ethiopia amounted to 23 million Euros, which has been growing over the last five years. In 2012 FDI was 20.5 million Euro.
Capital: The Italian Trade Agency was established back in December2014 and officially inaugurated in the same month next year, how has it strengthened trade ties between the two countries?
Panarello: The principal functions of the agency are to foster bilateral trade relations by providing Ethiopian Entrepreneurs and other companies; information about Italian companies and market updates. It also provides assistance in establishing contacts with Italian companies by participating in exhibitions promoting Italian products, organizing training courses technological conferences, workshops, seminars and so on.
In addition we organize a variety of industry specific promotional events such as trade missions of Ethiopian businessman to Italy visiting major exhibition and bringing Italian businessman to Ethiopia and arrange bilateral meetings that benefit both parties.