GENOA: The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has a positive influence on the global economy in general and the logistics sector in particular, and several countries, among them Italy, should draw on its rich potential, an Italian maritime shipping expert has said.
Marco Donati, deputy general manager of the China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) in Italy, talked to Xinhua in the Italian port city of Genoa recently.
Born and bred in Genoa, Donati has been working with COSCO for over 30 years. He started his career as a boarding agent and now he is the Chinese shipping giant’s deputy general manager in Italy. He has been a privileged witness of the evolution of Italy’s trade and logistics partnership with China.
According to Donati, the BRI is of crucial importance if seen through the lens of its very concept: providing a complete logistics chain for products to reach their final consumers worldwide.
The BRI is indeed a two-way traffic road, bringing logistic and commercial benefits to all its participants — including Italy, Donati pointed out.
“This road, which was built to improve logistics, is, as all roads are, bidirectional. It surely helps Chinese-manufactured products to reach Italy, Europe, the whole world, but it also helps our products to reach a huge market in a faster and smoother way,” he said.
According to Donati, the Chinese market has so much consumption potential that some Italian industries would not even be able to produce enough to meet the demand there.
“A few years ago, people used to talk about how many Tarocco oranges (a renowned variety from Italy’s southernmost region of Sicily) the Chinese could consume, but it would be a number so big that we would not be able to meet the demand and bring all those oranges to China,” Donati explained.
In his opinion, people should not make the mistake to think that the BRI benefits China in a unilateral fashion. On the contrary, Italy could profit from the same opportunity.
“We (Italy) should be smart enough to take advantage of this initiative and make the Italian market way more competitive,” said Donati.
Donati already raised this idea during a convention on the BRI held in the Italian Senate in May 2019, when he said that the improvements in logistics brought by the BRI would benefit both Italy and China, and that such a logistics edge would be “fundamental for Italy in order to be competitive on the global stage,” especially in light of its export-centered economy.
According to him, the BRI has been beneficial to COSCO, too, as the company has been improving its services to meet the BRI’s strict requirements.
However, logistics is not only about moving goods, but also about sharing ideas and bridging cultural differences, as Donati knows well, being the main intermediary between COSCO’s Chinese and Italian management and personnel.
“There is so much mutual respect and balance between the two. Over my 30 years of career in Italy, I had to be able to transmit the Chinese side’s information and intentions to the whole staff in order to engage everyone to row together in the same direction,” he said.
Donati noted that COSCO has always pursued a “Chinese” concept of growth, which is based upon sustainability and balance.
This “balanced growth” mindset allowed the Italian branch of COSCO to successfully regroup despite all external pressure, such as the 2008 financial crisis, without ever dismissing even a single employee.
“Our Chinese partners have taught me that the job also has an important social component, so the company has to try to create fundamentals so solid that it never needs to dismiss people,” Donati said.
According to him, COSCO’s key to success also lies in translating the innovative Chinese ideas into practice by fitting them into the local context and mixing them up with sound technological solutions, such as digitalized systems and blockchain.
According to the company, in 2021, COSCO’s Italian branch moved 500,104 twenty foot-equivalent units (TEU) of containers between terminals in Italy, Croatia and Algeria.
Italy’s trade with China grew 34.1 percent year-on-year in 2021, exceeding 73.9 billion U.S. dollars. In the first quarter of 2022 alone, it topped 19.5 billion dollars, up 17.5 percent year-on-year despite the COVID-19 pandemic, according to China Customs.