According to the Israel-Italy Chamber of Commerce, similarities between the two countries in geography, mentality and culture pave a smooth road to business ties.

Israel-Italy commerce

Torino Chamber of Commerce Secretary General Guido Bolatto; Gaia Molco, Secretary General for the Israel-Italy Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Italian Ambassador to Israel Luigi Mattiolo; Israel-Italy Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chairman Ronni Benatoff.

This fall, government agencies and businesses from Italy and Israel are working hard to build up enterprises between the two Mediterranean countries.

“More and more, we see how science and technology cooperation between Israel and Italy is growing,” says Gaia Molco, secretary general for the Tel Aviv-based Israel-Italy Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IICCI), a private, non-profit member of a network of 70 Italian chambers of commerce.

On November 9, Italian minister of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies Giancarlo Galan and Israeli Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Shalom Simhon signed a scientific cooperation agreement between the two countries. Shared research priorities include sustainable agriculture and natural resource management (water, soil); food quality; the adaptation of agriculture to climate change; precision farming; and genomic technologies applied to horticultural and fruit farmers. The agreement includes an annual call for bilateral cooperative research projects from the two ministries.

Earlier in the fall, a delegation from Torino, capital of the industry-rich Piemonte region, recently visited Israel under the auspices of the Torino Chamber of Commerce and the Piemonte Agency for Investments, Export and Tourism and R&D Institutes. The chamber represents some 237,000 companies in high-tech, nanotech, aerospace, information technology, life sciences, food and wine, textiles, and other industries.

Banking and corporate representatives from the Lombardy region, which includes Milan, came to discuss investment and business opportunities in renewable energy with Israeli counterparts, at a meeting headlined by remarks from Luigi Mattiolo, Italy’s ambassador to Israel.

Italians attracted by Israeli know how

Similarities between the two countries in geography, mentality, and culture pave a smooth road toward business ties, Molco tells ISRAEL21c. “Italian corporations see that the types of technology Israel has can be used in Italy, and they appreciate the productivity and quick development here. Italians are very good in marketing and branding, so it’s a good match.”

In 2009, trade between Israel and Piemonte amounted to 171 million euros, or 27 percent of all Italy-Israel exchanges.

“From Israel we mainly imported computers, electronics, and optical devices,” reports Cristian Avanzi of the Torino Chamber of Commerce Foreign Trade Department. “We mainly exported food and wine, machinery, and means of transport. As you can see, we are highly active in partnering with Israel, but we want to improve these figures in the years to come.”

Molco says Italy has ample experience in fashion and food merchandising, but is new to technological endeavors – an area in which Israel excels. Israel is now Italy’s second most significant scientific partner after the United States in ventures involving high-tech, renewable energy, and biotech. Aerospace and academia, pharmaceuticals and medical devices are additional areas of burgeoning cooperation.

Israel’s bridge to a larger market

To Israel’s advantage, Italy offers critical access to larger consumer populations and investment opportunities, Molco relates.

“Italy is becoming a bridge to all of Europe,” she continues, “When Israeli companies want to start businesses in Europe, the first country they approach for hosting a pilot is Italy.”

Italian companies may also help bring Israeli innovations to key North African markets, adds Ronni Benatoff, the Milan-based chairman of the IICCI.

“Right now, we are getting people together in Israel and Italy, sector by sector,” says Benatoff. Preliminary meetings are focusing on tourism, aerospace, food, environment, and photovoltaic energy.

“We’ll have an important technology transfer meeting this month, where heads of the Italian research industry will come to Israel for the first time. We will try to introduce some of the most important Israeli VCs to Italian banks and financial investors to guide them in investing in specific start-ups in Israel.”

Piemonte regional businesses are also eager to learn more about Israel’s technology transfer mechanism that puts inventions on a fast track from the universities that incubate the ideas to the factories that fashion them into products. Additional academic exchanges are taking place between the Torino Politecnico and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology as part of a ‘twin cities’ relationship between Torino and Haifa.

Joint ventures sure to emerge

The Torino Chamber of Commerce delegation, headed by secretary general Guido Bolatto, included representatives from the Torino Wireless Foundation, a private non-profit that helps small and medium-sized enterprises with growth acceleration; the industrial applied research center Istituto Superiore Mario Boella; and the BioIndustry Park, which already has several projects with Israeli biotech incubators.

Using English as a common language, the visitors courted Israeli investment and partnership opportunities in high-tech. “The Italians presented projects and asked their Israeli counterparts if they have something they can contribute to make those projects better,” Molco recounts.

According to Benatoff, the meeting with Lombardy legal and banking executives and members of the Milan Chamber of Commerce, held at Bank Hapoalim headquarters in Tel Aviv, revealed keen interest from Israeli companies in renewable energy opportunities in Italy.

He adds, “We explained that here in the north there is an easier environment for foreign companies to work in. We tried to cover the most important points, from construction and technology to licensing and financing. Israelis are looking for direct investments so they can manage the whole process.”

Benatoff predicts that many joint corporate ventures, especially in high-tech and innovation, will emerge from the ongoing talks.