After the visit to China by Italian Prime Minister Antonio Conte for the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, Undersecretary of State for Economic Development Michele Geraci held the second meeting of the China Task in Rome – an occasion for Geraci to underline some important elements related to the Italy-China deal on the One Belt and One Road Initiative.

“First I noticed that initial the criticism about memorandum of understanding with China is slowly disappearing after the publication of the final text. We were able to bring China close to fundamental principles that are very important for the EU, like references to climate change, reciprocity, a level playing field, etc. The memorandum is for us a promotional element and not a tool of trade policy,” Speaking to New Europe, Geraci explained after the meeting

Geraci thinks that the positive outcome of the memorandum will be an increase in the export of agricultural food products and new air routes from Rome to Chengdu and Hangzhou in China, which will also boost tourism between the two countries. An increase in the tourism flow is an important opportunity, Geraci said as “It would be interesting to host some Chinese producers in the south of Italy and in Sicily, which was visited by President Xi (Jinping).”

Xi’s state visit to Italy was the first by a Chinese president in 10 years. The move was viewed as a coup for Beijing’s European ambitions and for cooperation between Italy and China.

“We are working on multiple directions – tourism, student exchanges, technological cooperation. We want to maximise the value of our exports to China. As our economy is devoted to the international trade of our products, and if we can now export €13 billion my personal goal is , in order to catch up with the other EU partners, to increase our revenues of €7 billions which is +0.4 of our GDP,” Geraci said.

Ctrip, a Chinese tech giant and Asia’s largest online travel agency, recently inked deals with a dozen Italian partners, including Italian authorities, airports, railways, museums, destinations, business associations and companies, on 22 March.

“Because of this, we can now attract Chinese tourists to visit different film locations, for example after 12 movies were shot in Switzerland, the flight to Zurich are very successful,” added Geraci.

The signing of the memorandum of understanding was, according to Geraci, backed by the recent signatures of Luxembourg and Switzerland and other 13 EU members, all of whom also secured a deal with China. In Italy’s case, according Geraci, some EU countries were “jealous” of Italy’s decision to joning the One Belt, One Road Initiative at a relatively late juncture compared to other European nations.

“I didn’t see the same sort of criticism from the EU’s authorities directed at countries like Luxembourg and many others. A “true” European can’t say that there is an “A level” of European countries and a “B level” that had already signed and agreement with China, I think all the countries are on the same level,” Geraci told New Europe.

Regarding Italy’s debt issue, a particularly sore spot for Brussels, Geraci clarified that the Italian government is not asking for any money from China and that Rome will not suddenly find itself in a “debt trap” when dealing with Beijing.

“China is investing in green field or upgrading projects. The risk of debt trap could be present for small countries exposed for large quantities of debt like 20-30%,but, again, this is not the case for Italy.”

Utilities provider Italgas signed a memorandum of understanding with the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC), the world’s largest energy utility, to evaluate possible joint initiatives in the natural gas distribution sector.  The agreement was signed during the visit of the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte with China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang.

The initiatives under consideration include the mutual sharing of knowledge, solutions, and methods in the energy sector; an in-depth analysis of the respective best practices in the field of sustainable development, with particular reference to social responsibility, environmental protection, energy efficiency and welfare; the promotion, in China, of the most innovative Italian companies operating in the natural gas distribution sector and finally the analysis by areas of interest aimed at identifying potential opportunities for collaboration in the gas distribution sector and its use for sustainable mobility.

“The important growth that Italgas has recorded in recent years”, commented Italgas CEO Paolo Gallo, “is also measured by the importance of the international partnerships that we are rapidly developing to strengthen our leadership in Italy and Europe. “The agreement with State Grid Corporation of China is a reason for pride, not only because of the institutional framework in which it was signed, but also because it is a recognition of our leadership in the gas distribution sector and our ability to innovate. It allows us to compare our best practices with the operations of the world’s largest utility and to be the ambassadors in China of our industry. In addition to evaluating possible joint development opportunities, we will also be engaged in promoting the best Italian manufacturing companies that are active in the natural gas distribution sector.”