Projects under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are “no different” from those of the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other international organizations, Michele Geraci, undersecretary of state of the Italian Ministry of Economic Development, told the Global Times.
“The Belt and Road is a China-proposed initiative, but it mostly operates outside of China,” Geraci said.
“After signing up to the BRI, Italy expects to explore better opportunities for cooperation with China.”
He noted that they are trying to get more Italian companies engaged with Chinese companies and after signing the MOU, they are moving on to more practical projects.
“We believe that the development of infrastructure and transport are very important to the Italian economy,” he told the Global Times.
As to cooperation between Italy and China on the ports of Trieste and Geneva, Geraci told the Global Times that the cooperation is very healthy and the two sides have known each other for a long time prior to reaching an agreement.
In addition to the benefits Italy could enjoy from the BRI, Geraci believed that the European nation’s participation could also contribute to the initiative.
Italy follows high standards on transparency. All projects, and companies in Italy are required to follow quality and transparency standards. “The MOU contains some of these clauses. Chinese companies are also very happy to work under those guidelines. This will improve quality of cooperation under the Belt and Road,” Geraci said.
He added that Italy cares about the environment and every project must consider several factors, including pollution and a level playing field. “Chinese companies could learn [from these experiences] by engaging more with Italian companies. It’s an opportunity for Chinese companies to learn.”
Geraci stressed that Italy does not have political interests in supporting the BRI.
“We are not taking sides. We are an independent country and want to do business with other countries,” he said.
We are part of the EU and part of NATO. We also cooperate with many African countries, he added.
Geraci also dismissed speculation that Italy’s endorsement of the BRI is largely due to his personal ties with China.
“It’s not because of my relationship with China. I have relations with many countries,” said the economist and China expert who lived in the country for a decade until 2018.
Geraci said because he knows about China, he wants Italy to improve economic ties with China.
“I want to help Italy do more business with China. Of course, the fact that I have a relationship with China helps me communicate,” he said.
He defends sustaining cooperation between Italy and China under the BRI even after a change in government in the future.
Italy’s participation in the BRI will not change because the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been signed. It’s about the country’s participation, which is greater than the government, he noted.
Geraci said that he doesn’t think the EU takes a “negative view of the BRI.” “After the MOU Italy signed went viral, almost everyone understood that there was no such a big deal. And, hence, more European countries have begun to look at it with interest.”
“Because we have an MOU that contains language in line with European standards, other countries can use the MOU,” he said. He added that Italy opened up doors for other countries, including Switzerland and Luxembourg.
Following Italy’s steps, Luxembourg joined the BRI in March and Switzerland formally endorsed the BRI in April.
While the European Commission labeled China a “systemic rival” in March, Geraci said a re-elected commission in the near future won’t go with that label.
Personally, he said, he sees China “as both an opportunity and a challenge. A big opportunity to do business together, but it’s also a challenge because China is also a big manufacturing country. And in Europe, countries, including Germany and Italy, are big manufacturing countries as well.”
“There are, of course, challenges. But the goal is to take the challenge and turn it into an opportunity instead of competition,” he stressed.
He suggested that Italian companies can supply Chinese companies.
For example, Italy and Germany make cars and, for some reason, German cars have become more successful than Italian cars. “So Italy lost to Germany? No. Italy supplies about 40 percent of the components to German cars,” he said.
“So we found a way to cooperate equally. This is a concrete example that we will follow with Chinese companies.”