Ferruccio Dardanello (President - UNIONCAMERE)

Le Camere di Commercio: eccellenza italiana, in patria e all'estero

Apr 23, 2014 3462 ITA ENG

The first Chambers of Commerce appeared in the eighteenth century in the territory which later would be institutionally called Italy. After the unification of Italy, the Chambers formed an organization that would organize and represent them nationally, which has since come a long way, as did the Chambers of Commerce and the companies affiliated to them.

Today UNIONCAMERE represents all the Chambers of Commerce, both in Italy and, through ASSOCAMERESTERO, the Italian Chambers abroad. It is for this reason that we consider of great interest to host the opinion of the President of UNIONCAMERE, Ferruccio Dardanello, that can give us a very interesting and unique focus on the Italian business world in general, and in particular with reference to the United States. We thank him very much for his time and for sharing his thoughts with our readers

President Dardanello, how is Italy's health according to UNIONCAMERE and the many companies that have joined the association?

Our country certainly does not live today one of its best moments. We suffer the effects of a crisis that comes from far away and that has hit us with great violence, damaging families and businesses. I think that the still growing unemployment data in the last period are a clear indicator of this great difficulties, which unfortunately is hitting the most vulnerable, then the low-income families; our youth, who are struggling to build their own future; small companies heavily dependent on domestic consumption, not showing yet to be able to get back on top.

However, we can see the first signs of recovery, mainly from the only almost always positive economic indicator in these years of crisis. I am referring to manufacturing exports, which in the last quarter of 2013 has progressed its rise, reaching 4.3%, thanks to a good recovery of that quality handicraft (much affected by the economic situation) that seems to be reversing the route. The problem remains household consumption which do not progress, either due to objective difficulties or to the lack of confidence easily felt. And this of course triggers a vicious circle: low consumption means low sales for Italian companies.

A recent report from UNIONCAMERE tells us that statistically one company every four has a female guide. Is this number too high or too low?

If we look back, we realize that in the great majority of cases of family businesses, the woman had a fundamental role: sometimes not recognized with specific roles within the company, but "only" with her husband or partner. But what we are experiencing in recent years, thanks to our Observatory of female entrepreneurship and to the action of the dedicated Committees present in all Chambers of Commerce, is a new way, much more modern, of doing business as women.

The vast majority of these entrepreneurs are motivated by a desire for professional achievement, to realize a dream, a strong and vibrant passion. They are free women, which of course need - like everyone - to work, but mostly they want to get involved, test their ability to give meaning to their studies and their skills. From this point of view, in my opinion the data for women-owned businesses becomes significant. Because - the very existence of a policy of equal opportunities tells us so - Italy is not yet fully "a country for women", in which women are fully given the same chances offered to men.

A fundamental part of the network of the Italian Chambers of Commerce is ASSOCAMERESTERO, to which belong also the Italian Chambers of Commerce in the USA. How are they doing, and what would they need to be able to do even more?

The network of the Italian Chambers of Commerce Abroad (CCIE) has acquired over the years prestige and value, and is a key resource for both the Italian entrepreneurs wishing to internationalize their activities and those foreign entities seeking to enter into the Italian market. Perfectly integrated in the contexts and dynamics of the 55 countries in which they operate, an important part of the local business communities, the CCIE are able to direct the activities of the operators on those sectors that are more attractive, providing assistance on regulatory, funding, facilities, supporting and promoting the activities of the most competitive companies.

The CCIE provide services with high added value such as those that help to strengthen the distribution channels for their products by identifying reliable foreign partners, and detecting forms of investment in place to diversify their production.
The five Italian Chambers of Commerce in the United States, operating in the areas of Chicago, New York, Houston, Miami and Los Angeles and assemble together more than one thousand Italian, American and foreign companies, do a constant work to strengthen the local roots by investing the majority of the resources available in promotional initiatives to help the Italian business, promoting the excellence and uniqueness of Made in Italy both in traditional sectors like food processing, engineering, marine, tourism and design, and in the most innovative as green technology, aerospace and ICT, through a number of initiatives organized in different ways (business missions, BtoB meetings, participation in exhibitions, research of partners, seminars, exhibitions, networking events, etc..).

The network of Italian Chambers abroad, which are an integral part of the system of the Italian chambers, is ready to play an important role in the definition of policies to promote Italian contents, working together with other players in the Italian system, to enrich the look on different foreign countries.

The Italian entrepreneurial connective tissue is made by a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises, which produce nearly the 95% of the country's GDP. It is quite the opposite of what happens in the US, where there are many large and even very large companies. So, about the business relations between Italy and the US, does this mean that opposites attract, or this makes it more difficult to meet and do business?

Surely the two business models are perfectly suited to their own situation, and even if they respond differently to stimuli that come from the international market, they are perfectly capable of interacting with each other. The model of SMEs, in contrast to that of large enterprises, provides a streamlined organization that can respond faster in the short term to the change of the international conditions. Large companies instead represent a comprehensive and integrated world, which includes specializations and departments that provide strength and independence to the enterprise. In addition, small and medium business in Italy is rooted in the territory and enhances typicality and excellence; the big company is characterized by a global vision more attentive to the needs of international consumers.

In Italy, we are witnessing the birth of enterprise networks that can, in a way, fix that organizational deficit that often prevents small companies to become major global players. Today, we have almost 1,300 network contracts, involving almost 6,400 companies. The business systems are not monolithic and integration and contact between different worlds will define the new models, better suited to compete in the changing international environment. I would like to stress that, despite the systemic differences, Italy and the United States have over the years developed collaborations in almost all industries by favoring an approach of the models of business organization and of the business dynamics.

I would also like to add that our business system has a very high potential. Today, our results on the international markets are mainly due to the approximately 12 thousand companies that regularly trade with foreign countries, spearhead of an army of exporting firms of about 214mila units. But the other 70 thousand companies have what it takes to venture into foreign markets. So, to support all exporting firms but especially those that have to get started on this, we gave birth to "WorldPass", the actual and virtual network of agencies for internationalization activated by the Chambers of Commerce.

Realistically, what can we expect from the EU/US negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership?

The negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is certainly a great opportunity to relaunch the European and the American economy and is a practical response to the growing need for reform of the global economic system. So much has been discussed, in fact, about the need to rethink and reorganize the mechanisms that regulate the productive sectors and international trade, and the path taken by the EU and US goes exactly in this direction.

Through a process that touches the most important issues of international trade and investment, the two areas, which together account for 30% of the worldwide trade of goods, try to lay the groundwork for a process of redefinition of the rules that will govern the future global economic system. Italy participates with confidence to the evolution of a path that would undoubted bring benefits to our country, which is currently focusing on exports and internationalization, and that could be strengthened by the downsizing of tariff barriers and especially the non-tariff ones, representing a major obstacle to the growth of trade. I think that we will see positive results in this direction, particularly in the classic areas in which Italy excels such as agribusiness and automotive, but I also think about those innovative start-ups that are leading the way in the international markets.

The European Union is a unique model in the world and is the witness that greater integration between the markets is the most effective response to the effects of one of the toughest economic crisis in history. EU and US are actually very similar, linked by common values and a close collaboration at all levels, however we will have to work hard not to resize the one reform that represents the most promising growth levels. There are divergences especially in the field of intellectual property and product safety: but, in my opinion, every effort has to be taken to avoid the risk of losing this unprecedented opportunity.

If you were to mention one Italian area that has recently amazed you by its vitality and innovation, among those represented by the 105 Italian Chambers of Commerce, which would it be?

Difficult question for someone like me who in recent years has had the opportunity to visit the country from north to south, from one end of the empire to the other, as I like to say. In all the Chambers of Commerce and territories I visited I met great people and I have lived exciting experiences. It happened every time, so I do not feel right to give a "premium" to one or another.

Maybe, if I have to mention something, as a man of the North - because I am from Cuneo, Piedmont - I would give a lot of praise to the many realities in the South of Italy, where they fight with even greater problems than the rest of the country, and still they often look to the future and make innovation - perhaps because they face even more difficulty - with greater tenacity.

Problems of the exhibition system, infrastructure, bureaucracy ... our country is not very good at helping those who from America would want to invest in Italy or enter our market. What can we say to Americans and Italian Americans that, despite everything, would want to do that?

Despite the difficulties we are experiencing, Italy is a country that offers countless opportunities to foreign investors. Due to its location in the heart of the Mediterranean, with a domestic market among the most important in Europe, centers of excellence in research and innovation, an excellent manufacturing system famous and acclaimed all over the world, our country is a timeless destination for foreign investment. Do not forget that, even in these recent very difficult years, Italy has nearly a thousand products with trade surplus, able to score a surplus of $ 183 billion.

The economic crisis has called into question a system dominated by no longer current and competitive dynamics, and thus comes the pressing demand for a profound reform of the national economy, towards the creation of a new foundation that can support sustainable and balanced growth. However, Italy continues to innovate and enhance the local traditions and excellences, in a mixture of past and future that fascinates the world. The world can and must invest in Italy.

Craftsmanship and manufacturing districts are the heart of Made in Italy. UNIONCAMERE has recently signed an agreement with Google to promote them: there are really wonderful contents, of which we are proud. Please describe us this new project?

The experience started with Google last year and it will continue even more in 2014: this was really exciting. We started with a limited but very concrete goal: bringing to digital 20 districts of Made in Italy, letting them know about the extraordinary opportunities of the web. And the result was amazing. "Distretti sul web" (districts on the web) has already had its first development, through the platform www.eccellenzeindigitale.it, in which are showcased the experiences in all the 20 districts.

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