ArmInfo.Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Italy to Armenia Vincenzo Del Monaco in an interview with IA ArmInfo spoke about the Armenian-Italian relations, trade, economic and cultural interaction, joint struggle against coronavirus and other issues.
Mr. Ambassador, at what level are the Armenian-Italian political relations today? Are high-level visits expected in the foreseeable future?
First of all, let me thank you for this valuable opportunity given to me to share my views with ArmInfo and your readers. I will answer your question very straightforwardly: we are experiencing a very high momentum in the political relations between our two Capitals. The political dialogue is particularly dynamic and it can leverage on a steady increase in the exchange of institutional visits. We register a broad convergence on many items of the international agenda and we cooperate actively at international level, within the Organizations and Fora we both belong to. Let me also emphasize the very positive dynamics between Armenia and the European Union. I attach the greatest significance to your relations with the EU, with the potential to generate extraordinary results. The Armenian relations with the EU are in the meantime a sort of high octanes propellant for the bilateral relations with Italy and other Member States.
How would you assess the Armenian-Italian trade and economic relations? Are there any new areas for cooperation that countries could develop? As we know, last year a positive dynamics was recorded in the foreign trade turnover between the two countries, and in this vein I would like to know which Armenian goods are in demand on the Italian market and vice versa?
I completely agree with your assessment. Last year was a very positive one for the bilateral economic and commercial relations, and statistics on trade exchanges provide the most vivid evidence to this reality. I would add that even the internal economic growth rate of Armenia did not go unnoticed abroad. As a matter of fact, the democratic wind blowing in Armenia has triggered a renewed interest of Italian entrepreneurs and businessmen in the local market and in the opportunities it offers. The business community attaches considerable importance to the reform agenda of the Armenian Government, especially in the field of rule of law. During my career I have come to appreciate the fundamental role of the rule of law for the attraction of investments and for the economic development. During his visit in Milan and in Rome at the end of November last, this message was clearly conveyed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to the Italian business community and I may assure you that it was very well received. Armenia is undertaking commendable efforts in that direction and results are already visible. There is also a significant potential stemming from the belonging of Armenia to the Eurasian Economic Union, in addition to the opportunities offered by the Armenian market. To answer your question on the demand of Armenian products in Italy, let me underline that in 2019 we have registered an increase also in the Armenian exports to Italy, for instance in the textile and jewelry sectors. Italians are very demanding consumers, attracted by products coming from Countries like Armenia with a deeply-rooted culture. Your products carry a cultural message, they contain the identity and the traditions of your territory and of your ancient civilization. In the meantime, Armenia is a country of mathematicians and physicists, and this sort of twinning between "future and past" can easily work as a powerful communication tool to better penetrate also the Italian market.
The Italian Renco construction company signed a contract with the Government of the Republic of Armenia on the construction of a new TPP (Thermal Power Station). At what stage of implementation is the project? Does the construction company plan to implement other large-scale projects in the territory of the Republic of Armenia?
After having reached in the first half of 2019 the financial closing with the international financial partners of the project (IFC, DEG, OFID, ADB), Renco started the construction phase in May 2019. Works should continue until roughly summer 2021. The construction activities already performed include excavations, earthworks, completion of the foundations of the main power plant equipment and buildings. Nearly 15.000 concrete cubic meters have been poured so far. In May 2020 Renco should start receiving the technological equipment, therefore allowing the mechanical installation of the above mentioned items together with the construction of water and gas pipelines. The company might also decide to invest more in Armenia and in other fields of activity
At the end of last year, the Ceramisia plant was opened in Armenia, which was founded as part of a joint investment project of the Multi Group concern and the Italian Stoneware holding. Are there any plans to develop other similar projects, if so, what sectors may they affect?
As you rightly said, Ceramisia is part of the Italo-Armenian success stories of 2019. The factory is operating smoothly, and has adopted the highest European standards. Ceramics are successfully placed on the international market and the brand "Made in Armenia, Designed in Italy" is proving to work very well. It was indeed an excellent marketing choice, as far as I understand from the entrepreneurs. I would add that the company has hired more workers to satisfy the demand and I would not be surprised to see even more job offers in the future. To summarize, my impression is that the partnership between Italian Stoneware company and Hon. Gagik Tsarukian is performing very well. More in general, I trust that in the future more initiatives and more Italian investments will see the light in Armenia.
What is the state of cultural and humanitarian contacts between the two countries? What new joint projects are expected?
Culture is a major highlight of the bilateral relations between Armenia and Italy. With the impeccable cooperation of local Authorities, last year we offered to the Armenian people, to the international community living in the Country and to tourists a particularly reach program of initiatives, ranging from ancient art to contemporary painting, from music to video mapping. For my Embassy all those initiatives translated in an increased effort and let me take this opportunity to express my gratitude to my staff for their commitment. The final result was a very rewarding one, and I look forward a new set of initiatives during the current year.
Has the coronavirus outbreak affected the interaction of the two countries in such sectors as economy, tourism, etc. if so, how serious is the damage caused?
The coronavirus outbreak has not and will not impact the level of the bilateral relations between our two Countries. Actually, the solidarity I am receiving on a daily basis from Armenian institutions and citizens make our bonds even stronger. Italy is going through a very hard moment. Unlike 9/11, History is unfolding without a tangible enemy, but the number of casualties and of infected people captures the seriousness of the threat posed by the devious nature of Covid-19. The line taken by my Government is crystal-clear: full transparency and maximum cooperation with the WHO, the EU, our partners and the international community. There is no other way to challenge and defeat this pandemic, than by coordinating our efforts, sharing best practices and hard-won experience. Pandemics ignore borders and administrative demarcations. I am in regular contact with the Armenian Authorities, I am grateful to them for their cooperation, for the assistance they are providing to the Italian citizen affected by the virus. I also commend the transparency of your Authorities since the early appearance of the virus. When this crisis will be over - and it will be over - we will make an assessment of the toll it will have taken on business and we will quickly recover for lost time. Let me underline here that the virus is not transmitted by goods. For the time being the fight against this intangible enemy must absorb all our energies.
Italy has extensive experience in the restoration of buildings and monuments of cultural and historical heritage. It is known that the Italian side expressed its readiness to share experience with Armenia in this direction. At what stage is the interaction in this issue?
Preservation and restoration of historical heritage are indeed fields in which Italy excels. From July 2019 the Regional Office for Cultural Heritage Enhancement, Management and Protection (ROCHEMP) has started its works, and I am particularly satisfied with the ongoing cooperation between the Armenian Authorities and experts, starting from the Director of Rochemp, Dr. Ani Avagyan, and the Italian counterparts from Bologna University.
Mr. Ambassador, thank you for the interview.