Italy now Israel’s 2nd largest trading partner in sci-tech

Benatoff: The growth in bilateral cooperation is result of government efforts, both on the national and regional levels.

solar panels 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
solar panels 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
While political relations between Israel and European countries may be strained, when it comes to business, relationships are warming. Italy in particular is hungry for Israeli investments and business cooperation.
On Thursday, the Milan Chamber of Commerce and Bank Hapoalim held a conference on investment opportunities in the dynamic Italian solar energy sector, and only a week ago a group of businesspeople from the Piedmont region were in Tel Aviv to meet local hi-tech leaders for joint research and development projects.
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According to Roni Benatoff, chairman of the Italy-Israel Chamber of Commerce, in 2010 Italy overtook Germany and became Israel’s second largest trade partner in the fields of science and technology, after the United States.
“This didn’t happen by accident. The growth in bilateral cooperation is the result of efforts by the government, both on the national level and the regional level,” said Benatoff.
“The Italians have realized that their local industries have, to a certain degree, been left behind and lack sufficient innovation. Much of their industry is family based micro-industries who don’t have the resources necessary for investment in such development. The Italian government sees Israel as an important source for innovation. Cooperation between companies in both countries has the potential to link the innovative strengths that Israel has to offer with the design and marketing strengths that Italians posses.
“Italy can also offer Israelis a bridge to boost participation in European markets as well as access to markets traditionally closed to Israelis, like North Africa and the Persian Gulf,” said Benatoff.
Benatoff explained that the role of the governments was to be facilitators and aid in creating the connections, but that after the first ties were made, both sides backed off. “Italy, like Israel has a free market system and while they want to support their business community, they don’t want unnecessary interference. The developers know how to do things more efficiently than the government bodies.”
Whereas last week’s meeting dealt with all sorts of hi tech business connections, Thursday’s conference focused solely on investment opportunities in the Lombardy region’s renewable energy sector.
“Milan and Lombardy boast a developed market, companies with advanced technology as well as a business oriented environment, a favorable destination for Israel investments,” said Pier Andrea Chevallard, secretary-general of the Milan Chamber of Commerce.
“Since Israel is becoming a target market for us, we are willing to offer Israeli investors free services and assistance to ease the whole procedure of establishment of a new project like identifying the most appropriate counterparts, assisting in research of employees, research of regional, national and European funds for the development of a project, and other tailor-made services based on specific requirement of the Israeli investors.”
According to Ariel Nachman, an Israeli lawyer who works for the Simmons & Simmons law firm based in Milan, in the past two or three years there has been a continuous “pilgrimage” of Israeli investors to Milan.
“Several years ago the Italian government began a process that would see 20 percent of its energy for electricity come from renewable resources and as a result the different regions set up aggressive incentives for the production of photovoltaic electricity plants,” said Nachman.
“For most people, when they think of solar power, they think about the southern part of Italy, but Lombardy, which is in the north, has 20% of the projects. We’re here to provide information for potential investors on the best ways to enter the local market and how to differentiate between real opportunities and duds.”
Nachman divided the Israeli investors into three main groups: private entrepreneurs, investment companies and real-estate companies who are looking to invest in projects where they can also contribute their own resources.