TBY talks to Emma Bonino, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy, on bilateral relations between Italy and Lebanon in terms of business and culture.

Emma Bonino
Emma Bonino was born in Bra, Italy, on March 9, 1948. She earned a degree in Modern Languages and Literature from Milan’s Bocconi University in 1972. Elected for the first time to the Chamber of Deputies on the Radical Party ticket at the age of 28, she was re-elected in 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992, 1994, and 2006; appointed President of the Parliamentary group and Secretary to the President of the Chamber of Deputies; she was Vice-Chair of the Senate during the 16th Legislature (2008-2013). She was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs on April 28, 2013 and served until February 22, 2014.

Italy stands as the second trade partner of Lebanon, and the first within Europe. What is your outlook for trade between both nations in 2013, and which sectors of trade have more potential for future development?

Overall, Lebanese trade has been growing steadily. Given the well-known slowdown in international trade and the turmoil close to its borders with Syria, this is a remarkable trend. Forecasts for 2013 mark a further increase. Bilateral trade with Italy is also increasing; in 2012, Italian exports to Lebanon amounted to €1.28 billion, while in 1Q2013 bilateral trade grew by 4.3%. Italy is the first European exporter to the Lebanese market, and the Italian presence is set to remain firmly rooted in all sectors ranging from investment goods to consumer products. We can count on a high degree of openness in the market and on triangular transactions in quality products with Middle East countries. Italian goods can also rely on an extensive network of agents and franchisees, especially in food industries, clothing, and footwear. Nevertheless, I believe that there are still many ways to explore and exploit the Lebanese market for Italian machinery, food, furniture, fittings, luxury cars, and leisure boats. Our excellence is well known in Lebanon. Italian institutions actively accompany our businesses to grab different opportunities; the Commercial Desk of the Italian Embassy together with the Italian Trade Promotion Agency (ICE) promote a variety of activities to reinforce the positive image of Italian brands among Lebanese consumers and to maintain Italy's position as first European exporter. In 2012, the Joint Italian-Lebanese Business Council was established as a flexible tool to gather Lebanese and Italian businessmen interested in expanding their activities within national markets and together in third countries.

What opportunities are there in the maritime sector for both business and tourism purposes?

For many centuries, Italy and Lebanon have been trading along the Mediterranean coast. The coast of Lebanon and our peninsula have witnessed impressive movements of people, goods, and knowledge that have fuelled prosperity in the Mediterranean region. In particular, Lebanon has attracted goods coming from all over the Middle East, while Italy has traditionally re-directed the flows of products up to northern Europe and toward the rest of the Mediterranean basin. Today, Italy and Lebanon are still in a position to promote this virtuous circle of wealth and progress. Lebanon remains at the crossroads of three continents as well as a main tourist destination. It offers great opportunities in the field of maritime infrastructure. We are looking at the expansion of the ports of Beirut, Tripoli, Jounieh, and Saida, as well as the renovation of the marinas, which offer very interesting prospects. I am sure that a political improvement in the regional environment will surely favor the implementation of these projects, by mobilizing the necessary funds and re-launching trade and tourism in the region.

The Italian Cultural Institute in Beirut is an example of how Italy and Lebanon enjoy rich cultural relations. What particular cultural bilateral projects are planned for the near future?

Cultural cooperation has always been a must in our relationship. I am deeply convinced of the importance of joint initiatives as they provide invaluable opportunities to strengthen the dialogue between our two peoples. We are linked by shared values. Moreover, the Italian Cultural Institute in Beirut is engaged in tackling the widespread interest in the Italian language in Lebanese society. Language is a key to privilage, providing direct access to culture, and based on that understanding we offer and support Italian language courses in different locations throughout the country. The Italian Cultural Institute also works in close contact with Lebanese educational authorities in order to support the teaching of Italian as a second language in public schools. The Italian Cultural Institute's activities continue with the cooperation of distinguished figures in Lebanon's cultural life, and encompass all kinds of art, such as the Al Bustan Festival and the Liban Jazz Festival.

“ For many centuries, Italy and Lebanon have been trading along the Mediterranean coast. "