MILAN: The year 2017 started with the foot on the accelerator for Italian exports, boding well for the 215,700 exporting Italian companies surveyed in the 2015-2016 report by Italian Trade Agency ICE on the internationalization of the country, in collaboration with national statistics institute ISTAT. The first data on sales abroad show that exports are up 6.6% in the first four months of 2017, a figure that is higher than expectations, which currently point to 3-4% growth for the full year.
ICE Chairman Michele Scannavini explained that the year 2016 closed with a 1.2% increase in exports for Italy, which brought the value of foreign sales to $462 billion (about €417 billion) and with an increase in market share at the global level: Italy has risen to ninth place in the rankings of the main global exporters, while it is in sixth place in terms of trade balance, with a surplus of $57 billion (€51.5 billion, according to ISTAT data.
And while “Made in Italy” products confirm their strength beyond the country’s borders, Italian companies are also regaining attractiveness: after the fall in 2015, last year foreign direct investments in Italy increased by 50%, coming close to $29 billion and taking the country from 18th to 13th place in the international rankings for incoming foreign capital. Flows of Italian capital toward other countries also rose, by 12.4%.
The 2013-2016 period saw a significant recovery of trade with EU countries, with Germany and France confirming themselves as the main end-markets for “Made in Italy” products, according to ISTAT data, taking in respectively 12.6% and 10.5% of national exports.
The export trend toward North America was also positive, in particular towards the United States, the third partner for Italy, with a share of 8.9% of Italian exports. East Asia was also positive, though the Italian presence there still remains rather limited. Volumes and values of trade were however negative for Russia, many African markets, including those of the Mediterranean area where Italy has tended to have a high market share, and Brazil.
In terms of the types of goods, the report highlights the acceleration registered in foreign sales of pharmaceutical products (+6.8%), which amount to more than €21 billion, along with the traditional “Made in Italy” sectors, including the automotive industry (+4.1%), food (+3.6%) and clothing (+2.3%).
The sore points include the number and size of Italian companies: it is true that Italian exporters increased by 10,000 units, but that growth is viewed as disappointing (only up 0.3% compared to the previous year). The intrinsic weakness of the Italian business system continues, linked to size (with an average of €1.9 million of revenues), as Italian firms have for a long time been much smaller compared to competitors.