Agri-food and Made in Italy at the core of trade with ASEAN

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Italian excellences attract new consumers in South-East Asia

On 13 October, following the meeting regarding the new opportunities for the agri-food supply chain of Emilia-Romagna in ASEAN, it emerged with a certain degree of consensus how much the countries of the region are fascinated by the brand "Made in Italy" and by our nation.  

The new Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Vietnam, which entered into force on the 1° of August, promotes new opportunities for trade interactions between the two regions and underlines the increased attention that the country has shown towards Italian products. In this regard, the creation of an FTA between the EU and ASEAN would be useful to eliminate phenomena of Italian Sounding. The latter is an unfair widespread practice by foreign companies that offer reproductions of Italian food and wine excellences with the aim of attracting new consumers. 

Ms Formentini, a member of the ASEAN Desk at the European Commission, explained how to recognize these products by paying particular attention to means of identification such as PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) and PDO (Protected Designation of Origin). Italy is the European country with the largest number of agri-food products with Protected Designation of Origin and Protected Geographical Indication recognized by the European Union, comprising 299 products. Even today, there are products that continue to receive the coveted awards, among which the Lucan Oil that brings up to 18 products of excellence from Basilicata.

The ASEAN countries are not unresponsive to these goals and show great interest in agri-food products of Italian origin on grounds of their renowned international reputation. However, the risks of free trade in substitute goods should not be underestimated. Opening up barriers and increasing imports of goods may have negative consequences for indigenous products belonging to the same production chains. Just think about the opinions that circulated in 2017 about the consequences of the export of buffalo mozzarella from Italy on the trade of fresh cheeses in Canada or the possible imitation of the famous dairy from Campania after the entry into force of CETA. These safeguards must also be guaranteed for PGI and PDO products from Emilia-Romagna. For instance, after the crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, the region has shown great interest in seizing the opportunities arising from any free trade agreement in order to expand its network of commercial contacts and ensure an agile recovery for companies. Entrepreneurs are displaying great capacity in reaction to this critical moment and a strong sense of openness to a constantly developing region of the world.

ASEAN is one of the few areas in the world to have shown readiness to manage the health emergency and is similarly willing to contact new interlocutors. At this regard, it was held on 9 August in Thailand the fair "Food and Hotel" organized by Bellavita Expo with the participation of the Italian-Thai Chamber of Commerce. It is the main trade fair in the hospitality and gastronomy sectors in Thailand and Southeast Asia, during which the best Italian food and beverage products were described and advertised for over 29,000 professionals. The event wanted to give a decisive boost to signal the growth of the food and hospitality sector in Thailand, with the hope of offering exceptional opportunities to Italian companies to enrich their knowledge with professionals in the sector by promoting their businesses on the ground.

Therefore, the latest developments create optimistic forecasts of the popularity of products of Italian origin and provide hope for the progress of trade relations between the EU and Southeast Asia, as well as the spread of Italian food and wine excellences in the world.

By Hania Hashim 

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