Chinese trade deal did not meet expectations, says Italian Foreign Minister

AFP | | Posted by Sreelakshmi B
Sep 02, 2023 07:35 PM IST

The deal is due to be renewed automatically in March 2024 unless Italy withdraws this year.

A controversial investment deal with China has failed to meet Italian expectations, Rome's top diplomat said on Saturday ahead of a visit to Beijing, as speculation mounts that Italy will withdraw.

Italy's Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani(REUTERS)
Italy's Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani(REUTERS)

In 2019, the highly indebted economy became the only nation from the G7 club of industrialised countries to take part in China's Belt and Road Initiative.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping's ambitious programme, consisting of massive investments in infrastructure like ports, railways and airports, aims to improve trade ties between Asia, Africa and Europe.

Critics say the plan is a Trojan horse to increase Beijing's influence.

READ | ‘Good ties with China possible even without…’: Italy PM on exiting Belt and Road Initiative

The deal is due to be renewed automatically in March 2024 unless Italy withdraws this year.

"We want to continue to work closely with China, but we must also analyse exports: the Belt and Road Initiative has not produced the results we were hoping for," Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told an economic forum.

READ | Italy minister's 'wicked' decision remark on China's BRI: ‘Most ridiculous…'

He said Italian exports to China in 2022 were worth 16.5 billion euros ($17.8 billion), whereas the figures for France and Germany were much higher at 23 billion and 107 billion euros respectively.

Tajani will meet Chinese authorities during his trip to Beijing from Sunday to Tuesday and prepare a planned visit by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni that some experts believe will confirm Italy's exit from the deal.

The withdrawal "has likely already been agreed in principle with Chinese authorities", Lorenzo Codogno, a former chief economist at the Italian treasury, said in a note.

Meloni "will make the official announcement during her state visit to Beijing, expected by mid-October, as a sign of respect for China's leadership", but the Italian parliament will have the final say, he added.

Meloni's predecessor Mario Draghi froze the agreement and blocked large-scale Chinese investment in sectors deemed of strategic importance.

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