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Prospects for post-covid-19 italian businesses: the impact on the economy and the proposals to restart

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Elaboration by Beatrice Calabrese, Senior Trade Analyst of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in the UAE on the report by Andrea Prete, Unioncamere Vice President, at the hearing at the Senate Industry, Trade and Tourism Commission

With nearly 3.2 million infected worldwide and more than 220,000 deaths, as reported by the World Health Organization Health Emergency Dashboard (data as of May 2), COVID-19 has so far presented a very high account in terms of human lives , half paid by Europe in terms of contagion and deceased.

An account in which we must understand the second emergency, the economic one, which from the most recent IMF estimates means for Italy -9% of GDP and an unemployment rate growing at 12.7%. Again, estimates are likely to suffer from substantial underestimation.

This is the context in which businesses and institutions have found themselves operating, and among them the Chambers of Commerce, with a demand from businesses that has taken on the tone of a real request for help.

THE COVID-19 IMPACT ON THE ITALIAN ECONOMY 2020/2021

The Chamber system released the update of the business register data for the first quarter of 2020 on 17 April. There are almost 30 thousand fewer companies in the first three months of the year, against a drop of 21 thousand in the same quarter of 2019, a phenomenon linked above all to a reduction in registrations which, although the quarter includes at least two months not affected by the effects of COVID-19, are already more than 21 thousand companies below the average of the first quarters of the last 11 years. On the other hand, actual cancellations (net of office cancellations) are below the average of similar periods in previous years, but a value equal to half of that shown (around 10 thousand companies).

With reference to the international trade of Italy, Istat has recently released the data for the month of March 2020 for which it is estimated, for the commercial exchange with non-EU27 countries, a clear economic downturn both for exports (-13 , 9%) and for imports (-12.4%). The sharp monthly contraction of exports affects all the main groupings of industries and is more marked for capital goods (-24.6%) and durable consumer goods (-21.8%). Similarly, on the import side, there are large cyclical decreases for all groupings, with greater drops in durable consumer goods (-26.2%), energy (-24.2%), and capital goods (- 14.1%). From this point of view, it is worth mentioning the position of greater fragility of smaller exporting firms and less consolidated exporting firms. In this sense, it should be remembered that companies with fewer than 50 employees represent 90.7% of exporting companies and 22.3% of exports and that 52.8% of our companies (over 60 thousand) export less than 10 % of its turnover (Istat data). In many cases, these are companies that could be cut off from the circuits of international demand due to the sharp drop in global demand expected in the current year. This is a risk that does not only have an economic impact, as the companies persistently present on the markets can improve their efficiency and organization. 

The effect on a global scale of the emergency limited to the spread of COVID-19 is evident on the international demand side (both final and intermediate goods, which collapsed following the blockade imposed by numerous countries) and on that of the circulation of goods and of people (with cancellation of promotional initiatives such as fairs, exhibitions, forums, b2b, etc.). For Italy, the estimates currently elaborated on the export of Coronavirus for 2020 fluctuate between -5.1% and -10.1%, a second intensity and duration of the pandemic in several foreign countries affected by the infection.
To limit the effects of this scenario, some initiatives capable of relaunching (and, in perspective, strengthening) Italy’s international projection must be implemented – and quickly. 

THE PROPOSALS ON INTERNATIONALIZATION

The Chambers of Commerce contribute to the promotion of companies on international markets through numerous actions. The actions of the Chamber system develop in a network logic with the Government and national structures (Ice, Sace, Simest), with the Regions and with the business associations. On the one hand, through the involvement of the chambers of commerce in the territories, their regional foreign centers, specialized agencies, foreign chambers of commerce in Italy and the network of Italian chambers of commerce abroad. On the other, collaborating with the Institute for Foreign Trade (ICE). The European Commission’s Enterprise Europe Network for the promotion and growth of businesses in Europe is also active in many Chambers of Commerce. Article 72 of Legislative Decree 18/2020 (so-called Cura Italia), in the text definitively approved by Parliament, establishes a new Fund for integrated promotion towards foreign markets aimed at adopting measures to enhance Made in Italy promotion activities. These initiatives will be carried out in compliance with the guidelines and strategic guidelines adopted by the Control Room which also includes Unioncamere. What is proposed, as an amendment to article 72, is the express inclusion of the bodies of the Italian chamber system (Italian Chambers of Commerce and Italian Chambers abroad) among the actors that work for the benefit of the entire promotion system made in Italy audience.

To prevent that, just when support to our companies will be more necessary when international exchanges resume, the network of Italian Chambers of Commerce abroad is unable to continue to provide its support following the current difficulties , an extraordinary intervention program is needed which is placed in the priority lines indicated above but with specific resources from the MISE. This Program – of which Assocamerestero has already requested the MISE to include it in one of the current legislative measures by the Government – would be carried out essentially through digital technologies and using the consolidated knowledge and know-how of the CCIE. This is a complex of essential actions in the delicate post-emergency restart phase, for a correct accompanying action that no other person could provide besides the chamber network, being able to count on a widespread presence on the territories able to ensure continuous support and a double link between local foreign entrepreneurship and Italian SMEs, especially of a smaller size and often not a regular export.

The proposal is divided into three lines for a total of 15 million Euros for interventions to be carried out during 2020: 1) online information and assistance actions on the various foreign countries, to be carried out substantially with the work of the chamber structures; 2) business matching, assistance and support via the web, to offer the Italian entrepreneur an update on the opportunities and above all on how to connect (virtual business forums, mentorship activities, etc.) with the foreign market and its stakeholders; 3) training actions, also in this case with the use of digital technologies, on web marketing, orientation towards the foreign consumer, orientation courses on how to seize market opportunities and inclusion in European Union funding programs.

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