ITA director: Italian designers working on projects to restore Karabakh

ITA director: Italian designers working on projects to restore Karabakh The Italian Trade Agency (ITA) is a government agency represented in 79 offices in 65 countries. One of them has been operating in Azerbaijan since 2007. The agency provides a platform for Italian companies seeking to establish business relations in the h
February 23, 2024 12:13
ITA director: Italian designers working on projects to restore Karabakh

The Italian Trade Agency (ITA) is a government agency represented in 79 offices in more than 100 countries. One of them has been operating in Azerbaijan since 2000. The agency provides a platform for Italian companies seeking to establish business relations in the host country of their representative and, conversely, to learn about investment opportunities.

In an interview with Report, ITA director in Baku Andrea Maccanico spoke about initiatives to promote Italian culture in Azerbaijan, the Made in Italy brand in the Azerbaijani market, and plans to expand trade relations between Azerbaijan and Italy.

-How many Italian companies are operating in Azerbaijan? And which sectors are they most actively engaged in?

-There are a few companies, which are directly based in Azerbaijan. They are mainly active in the field of energy, services sector, and there are few consultants and agents which work for several different sectors. And there is also a significant presence of design and architecture companies, which are helping producing a lot of projects and ideas, especially in the liberated Karabakh.

Since Italian design is well known in the world, our agency decided to hold special days dedicated to it. This year we are planning to hold Italian Design Day in April, but the exact date and place have not yet been determined.

The main promotion for Italian design is organized by inviting the main importers and distributors of Azerbaijan to the main event we organize in Italy, Salone del Mobile Milano, which is the main event dedicated to furniture and design. And we also had the pleasure of inviting some Azerbaijani designers who are now trying to be part of this design week.

Architecture and furniture are a very important part of the Made in Italy brand, which is also of interest to Azerbaijani importers.

By the way, when mentioning Italian companies in Azerbaijan, one should pay attention to the fashion brands presented on the central streets of Baku. As you know, the fashion industry is also an integral part of Italian culture. Italian Fashion Week is famous all over the world.

-So, you have mentioned Italian designers involved in reconstruction of Karabakh. Will they attend in tender to participate like designers or what?

-There is another company which was hired by the Azerbaijani government to prepare ideas to develop. It’s mainly about memorials and honoring the people killed in Karabakh. So, these are monumental things, cemetery and museums, dedicated to remember what happened there. It’s also very important to keep your memory of these facts and also to raise awareness of the people. So, this Italian contribution is very appreciated by the government, because, of course, of the ability of the Italians to develop this kind of projects, which are state of the art, is spread all over the world.

- I would like to ask one more question related to Karabakh. Before the Armenian occupation, the region was famous for its wine-making traditions. It is known that restoration of vineyards and revival of winemaking are planned in the Agdam district. Considering that your country has good traditions in this, is the possibility of attracting Italian specialists for cooperation being considered?

- Taking into account the fact that several Azerbaijani wineries not only attracted Italian specialists, but also purchased Italian equipment for wine production, I believe that this idea is quite realistic. An example of this is one of the popular premium wine lines in Azerbaijan – Savalan. They hired Italian technologists to make the wine, and you can see the flags of Azerbaijan and Italy on the label. We are happy to observe such connections; we hope that this kind of cooperation will continue.

The Azerbaijani wine industry is rising to a higher level and I can also note the rapid growth in the export of your wine to nearby countries. This is evidence that the quality of your products is improving and therefore demand is growing. Considering the nature of Azerbaijan and its favorable climatic conditions, your country is an excellent place for the development of winemaking.

-Your agency frequently organizes missions from Italy to Azerbaijan and vice versa. So, what results have been achieved through this initiative? Have there been notable changes, including attracting Italian investors to Azerbaijan and vice versa?

- In this matter, one should note the purpose of the missions, which is to improve trade. To this end, we invite Azerbaijani importers and large companies to Italy to events where they can make purchases. And sometimes we bring here companies to present the production or the services, which can be interesting for the Azerbaijani counterparts. We organized last year a workshop with ten Italian companies of food sector and wines. Many types of Italian products are very popular with you. And we are planning to repeat this event this year. It’s going to happen in June.

But this year we also have an event happening in mid-May on the occasion of the exhibitions Caspian Agro and InterFood Azerbaijan. This time we are planning to bring a group of companies coming from Italy who are all active in the field of machinery, technology and services for the agriculture and the food production chain. So they come here to understand the market, to see how it works.

And to present the production, we will not organize stand inside the fair. But we organize also a workshop with all the most important government representatives here.

But behind this there is a very strong industry which produces machinery for agriculture and machinery for the food sector, from picking the fruits to package the final product.

There are positive examples, in particular cooperation between a large Italian tractor manufacturing company, which plans to create a joint venture in Azerbaijan to produce its equipment. This means introducing technology and starting production locally.

- Your agency actively participates in annual exhibitions such as Caspian Agro and InterFood Azerbaijan. This year they are scheduled for May 13-17. What are your agency’s plans and expectations for participating in exhibitions this year?

-Last year, at the Caspian Agro and InterFood Azerbaijan exhibitions, a stand was organized in collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce and Italian companies from various sectors. Another stand, jointly with Italian distributors and restaurateurs, gave visitors the opportunity to try Italian dishes and demonstrated Italian products on the Azerbaijani market.

This year, as I said above, a different approach is planned. We intend to promote Italian culture outside of the exhibition. We will do promotion outside the fair every day. We will discuss with the restaurant owners all along the year to organize, to cover all the year with events.

So, we work with AZPROMO (Azerbaijan Export and İnvestment Promotion Agency), which is exactly the same institution as we are. We also are in discussion with KOBIA, because they help support small and medium enterprises. And we want to organize with them an event with the Sicilian companies and then take the companies to visit the fair so they see it’s a good training ground to understand the market.

- From our communication, it seems that you are more interested in cultural interaction.

- Culture is one of the key areas for us in cooperation with Azerbaijan. For us, the cultural aspect is more important than business. We pay special attention to ensuring that people in Azerbaijan understand that there is a rich history and culture behind the production of high-quality Italian suits, delicious food and fine wine.

We organize various events aimed at demonstrating how to cook Italian, real Made in Italy. We also strive to train hotel and restaurant staff to recognize true Italian quality. Through these efforts, we have developed excellent relationships with local restaurants and bars. The idea is to support them in their attempts to introduce the Italian experience, gauge the reaction of Azerbaijani clients and perhaps introduce elements of the Italian lifestyle into the local culture.

- Your office is also responsible for Georgia. What can you say, which market is more interested in Italian products?

- Since I am responsible for two countries and regularly travel to Georgia to organize such events, I can note that here in Azerbaijan there is more interest in Italy compared to Georgia. My activities here include a significantly larger volume of work, and the budget is larger. In 2023 alone, the agency spent more than 150,000 euros on promoting Made in Italy. Partly, this was due to participation in the 74th International Astronautical Congress, which was held in Baku.

About 15 companies came from Italy. This was also important because the next congress will take place in October in Milan. In addition, participation in the Baku congress allowed us to talk about Italy’s broad capabilities in the aerospace field.

When 25 years ago for the first time I went to work for an Italian trade agency, I was posted in Bologna, one of the most important production regions in Italy. They're famous for the Food Valley because they produce a lot of food, but there they produce also tiles and ceramics.

I understood that in the satellites and the aerospace industry, they were using a lot of ceramics because ceramics is one of the strongest materials to resist to heat. So, we were in the space with tiles 30 years ago. I mean, we were building. When you see this international commission, the joint venture they do to put people in space, in the orbit, the place there, it's like 30, 40% made in Italy without brands, but with technology. So, this is another part that is really difficult to make people understand.

-So, if you participated last year in such a huge event like aerospace conference, I can guess that you will also participate this year in COP 29.

-I have a meeting with my colleagues for all the area and I just want to speak with the one in charge of the last COP 29 to understand what is going to be our job. Because a lot of business issues will be discussed on this main conference. So, I have to understand exactly what we will have to do.

It is expected that we will have a budget for this period to host companies, conduct events to promote our capabilities, related, of course, to climate change, and there are quite a few of them.

I heard that a couple of days ago the ambassador of Azerbaijan to Italy visited Sicily for the same purpose: to hold meetings with industrialists working in these areas in order to invite them to COP29.

- Let’s talk about energy. Azerbaijan is one of the major exporters of oil and gas to Italy.

- Italy is the main importer, accounting for 45% of your exports, which 99% consist of oil and gas. In the period from 2021 to 2023, we noted a doubling of energy imports, which is associated with the launch of a new gas pipeline. The second important factor was the impact of the war in Ukraine, which attracted the attention of all European countries to Azerbaijan, which was the only supplier with such weight in the region.

Considering that exports from Azerbaijan to Italy exceed imports from there, I am faced with the task of resolving this imbalance. It is important to note that, despite the possibility of importing goods from Italy, volumes are limited, so this is a difficult task.

- What difficulties does your agency face in promoting Made in Italy brand products in the Azerbaijani market?

-We have two main problems for exporting Made in Italy. Firstly, there are knockoffs of Italian brands that are available abroad and produced in several countries. This limits us and damages our brands.

For example, a T-shirt with the Gucci logo may look authentic, but in reality, turn out to be a product that was not made in Italy and does not even have anything to do with the brand.

We are trying to fight this, but it is extremely difficult. In Europe, there are strict rules regarding counterfeit goods, with violators subject to strict measures, including store closure. However, in some countries, the practice is more lenient, which creates difficulties in stopping such violations.

Another problem is the overuse of the Italian ‘Sounding’. Some companies choose Italian names, use the Italian flag, but manufacture their products in other countries. This is especially true in the wine sector.

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