Italy’s Ambassador to Jordan Giovanni Brauzzi considers boosting investment and trade between the two countries a top priority.
He’s been urging Jordan to focus on developing specific market niches where it has a genuine competitive edge, such as its well-educated workforce and startup friendly business environment.
Ambassador Brauzzi also hopes Italy can act as a bridge between the Kingdom and Europe to convey the expectations and hardships faced by Jordan.
Jordan imported $800 million worth of Italian products last year. But during the same period, Jordan only exported goods worth $100 million to Italy. How satisfied are you with this balance of trade?
I think the trade relation is one component of a wider framework, and in this wider framework we are extremely satisfied the political understanding between the two countries. I am quite encouraged by the relaunch of the Italian development cooperation in Jordan, I know that we are an important seller. We are the second largest European exporter to Jordan. There is a legitimate expectation from Jordan to have more exports to Italy. The volume is imbalanced, but we are also imbalanced countries. I think that we have to always keep in mind some basic elements, such as the fact that we are a country that is three times larger than Jordan, we have six times the population of Jordan, and our per capita GDP is three times that of Jordan. The issue is how within this imbalance we can achieve something that is of mutual benefit. I believe that [we can] balance out this imbalance by persuading the Italian business community that trade will be sustainable once there are direct investments in this country.
How responsive have Italian investors been to this idea?
It’s a slow reaction. You have to be convincing because now is a moment where everything is being restructured in the world. And therefore you have to be extremely competitive and extremely qualified. You cannot expect to increase exports on the basis of generosity or solidarity, you have to be competitive and therefore you have to identify the niches where you have an added value.
Where are these niches?
In areas where there is creativity and the human element, like services. The great asset of Jordan in my opinion is its stability. It’s quite significant that the Italian Trade Commission in Jordan is also responsible for Iraq and Palestine. It’s easier to make business from here, and that I think is important. Also the reconstruction of southern Syria will be an opportunity that has to be explored and I think it’s time to start.
Can the Jordan Compact that was signed with the EU play a role in boosting exports to Italy?
I don’t think it will. You are not exporting to Italy but to the European Union so you have to identify what is needed and to adapt to the standards and the requirements to be competitive in the European market. In Jordan, there is a capacity building effort that is ongoing now. It’s crystal clear that it is not a miracles in a short period of time, this is more of an adaptation but what is important is that in services and in other creative industry areas the human factor is what makes the difference and therefore we applaud very much the effort put now by the Jordanian government and the Royal Court to focus on education and the development of human resources. This is the great asset you have. I am impressed whenever I travel by the level of digitization that is available, which means that the average Jordanian is already prepared to be on the global market. The emphasis on digitization and ICT is extremely important.
What is striking when you visit Jordan is the hospitality which is also a great asset because now the gut feeling everywhere leans towards erecting barriers and building walls to protect ourselves and our wealth. This is a great illusion. In the past there were flows of people, of goods and ideas and you have to just channel them in the proper way, not to bloc them.
We have spoken about the assets, what about the shortfalls and the challenges that investors face in Jordan and how can the government ease these barriers?
There are physical constraints. This is a country that is quite poor in physical resources; water, land, and energy and these are major constraints. I think investment laws are going in the right direction but you need to select and identify sustainable [projects] and not to nurture the illusion that it’s enough to give fiscal incentives. They are of course welcome and necessary but you have to also identify the projects that are sustainable. If you are relying on initiatives that have to rely on imported raw materials and imported labor force and you seek only foreign markets there is an element of artificiality in it that I believe is a weakness. You have to take into account the various constraints but you have to boost the niches that are available. I think at the individual level there is a growing awareness and I think there are many spontaneous initiatives. I was very impressed by the level of creativity and ingenuity that I saw in the last two Amman Design Weeks, which was a great indication. But of course this is not a big industry like petrochemicals. But what may seem at the beginning as a petty initiative, if there is global audience then it could be a great business. What is also equally important is there is a lot of talk about entrepreneurship and startups. I’m stressing this point because this is a great strength for Italy as well in the global market. We are also a country poor in raw materials. We are a country that imports energy, and we have more or less the same constraints on different scales. But we know what the challenge of being poor in physical resources is and being quite lively in terms of human resources.
France is the biggest non-Arab investor in Jordan. What do you think they have seen here that Italian investors have yet to?
I think you have to be prudent when you stress this national element. If you analyze the level of interaction there is at the economic level between Italy and France for instance it’s very difficult to differentiate. Because probably beyond many French initiatives you have Italian capital and resources and it is the other way around. Behind many Italian labels you have French capital. Actually this is part of Europe, which it is a growing and promising project especially in the long-turn. We are suffering many crises and many ups and downs but in the long-term it’s only natural that Italy and France, France and Germany, Italy and Spain develop a lot of things together. So I congratulate and salute the French initiatives but I know that often there is joint collaboration behind them. For instance here there is a very nice example in the renewable energy sector where the most important investment in wind farms is Tafileh Wind. That is a joint-Italian French cooperation. Italian companies and French companies have a keen interest in investing even more in this area and there are other areas where there is joint collaboration.
During your term here what would you like to change and achieve, and how do you see the bilateral cooperation developing in the coming period?
We have a great admiration for Jordan and the role it’s playing in this troubled area. We want to stress the common routes and although Jordan does not have a shore on the Mediterranean, it is a Mediterranean country by all standards. We want to further build on the Mediterranean relations. When in 2015 we launched a global conference on the Mediterranean that would be held periodically in Rome, the keynote speaker in this important event for the first edition was His Majesty King Abdullah. Of course it is important to keep in mind that we attach the greatest importance on the bilateral relations but what is even more important is that we want the whole of Europe to have the same type of closeness with Jordan. The fact that on an issue like Jerusalem the whole European Union stood together in a position that is very similar to Jordan’s is a great relief. We support his Majesty’s initiatives and we are partners in all important European initiatives, which is the spirit. We want to be a bridge and to convey to the whole of Europe the feelings, expectations, and challenges you have here which we think we know a little bit more closely than others.