Italy opens new trade office in S’pore to boost business ties with South-east Asia

Singapore: Italy on May 9 opened the Singapore office of its export credit agency Sace in a move to help its companies capture growing trade and investment opportunities across South-east Asia.

Sace’s new office in downtown Capital Square will manage more than $8 billion worth of new South-east Asian projects in the pipeline and act as a bridge between sellers of Italian goods and technologies to firms in the region that need them.

Sace also provides insurance and other financial solutions to Italian exporters, with a focus on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It is controlled by Italy’s Ministry of Economy and Finance.

“With its growing economy projected towards future-oriented sectors, Singapore emerges as a high-potential destination for Italian companies seeking opportunities in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines,” said Ms Michal Ron, chief international business officer of Sace, at the opening ceremony held at the Embassy of Italy in Singapore.

She said projects under consideration in the $8 billion pipeline are spread over various sectors including green technologies, sustainable infrastructure, food and beverage, agribusiness, and chemicals.

“We are looking with keen interest at the economic developments and sustainable transition plans in Singapore and the South-east Asia region,” she said.

Italy – a US$2 trillion (S$2.7 trillion) economy and a member of the European Union – is well known for its food delicacies such as pizzas and pasta, iconic fashion brands such as Gucci and Prada, and Ferrari and Lamborghini sports cars. But Italy is also home to multinationals such as energy utilities firm Enel, oil and gas giant ENI, and UniCredit Bank – all of which have a presence in Singapore.

Franco-Italian semiconductor firm STMicroelectronics also has a large footprint in Singapore. Italy also has companies active in aerospace and defence industries such as Leonardo – one of three companies that manufacture the European fighter jet Tornado.

However, Italy’s bilateral trade and investment in Singapore and other South-east Asian countries is less than other Group of Seven nations such as the US, the UK, France and Germany.

The total two-way trade between Asean and Italy as at June 2023 stood at US$28.32 billion in 2022, compared with US$57 billion with the UK. For Singapore, Italy is its sixth-largest EU trading partner in goods.

However, with the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in place and the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement in the ratification process, bilateral trade with Singapore is likely to improve rapidly, Italy’s Ambassador to Singapore Dante Brandi told The Straits Times in an interview at the new Sace office here.

“We can do more in terms of bilateral trade,” he said. “This is the reason Italy was one of the most active promoters of the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement.”

Mr Brandi said the FTA and investment agreement will help many large Italian companies expand trade and investment with Singapore, and with the rest of the region as well. Most already have their regional headquarters here.

However, many Italian SMEs looking for trade and investment opportunities abroad lack information and access to Singapore.

“That is because Singapore does not have an embassy in Italy,” he said. Singapore has a resident honorary consulate-general in Rome to process visa applications.

Mr Brandi said Italy looks forward to hosting a Singapore embassy in Rome, and offices of Singapore agencies such as the Economic Development Board and sovereign wealth funds such as GIC.

The ambassador said Italy and Singapore share a lot of common interests and values, and both are in sync on issues such as free trade and freedom of navigation. He said the Italian Foreign Minister paid a visit to Singapore in 2022, and Mr Brandi hoped Singapore would also announce a high-level visit to Italy soon.

Ms Ron, who was also present at the interview, said both politics and business are driving renewed focus from Italy and other EU countries on the Asean region.

The supply chain issues during the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have raised the level of food and energy security concerns in Europe, she added.

“We believe that we have not fully optimised the opportunities here,” she said.

Ms Ron said Sace, in particular, sees Singapore, with its focus on innovation, technology and the green economy, as a place where it should have a presence.

She said Singapore, being a regional hub of finance, can also help Sace find partners to support its unique financial products.

For instance, Sace launched the Push Strategy Programme in 2017 to provide international corporations with access to medium- to long-term financing, backed by Sace guarantees, when they consider “Made in Italy” supplies in their operations.

Under the same programme, Sace has worked alongside Singapore’s Olam Group, a leading food and agribusiness, where Olam’s Food Ingredients unit secured Sace-backed financing of about US$500 million in March 2024.