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MarcoFortis

Fortis: Italian style beats technology

February 11 2005

The following is the Il Sole 24 Ore interview with Marco Fortis (Vice-Chairman of the Edison Foundation and professor of industrial economics at Milan's Università Cattolica) regarding the birth of Fiamp.

«In a difficult time like today's, the formulas suggested for re-launching Italian industry and exports always include 'teamwork', but, until now, this has rarely been put into practice.

One of the few exceptions is the decision taken by the various accessories, fashion and people sectors to come together in the form of a Federation, Fiamp, which groups footwear, leather goods, jewelry and eyewear.

The member segments agree about a series of urgent measures they will ask the Government to take, including: stronger actions to combat counterfeiting, urgent actions at EU and international level aimed at re-balancing China's currency dumping, taxation measures in favor of innovation and design which correspond to those for research.

The Italian fashion sectors do not seem to be resigned to competition from Asia and they are ready to put all their strength into defending their positions on the world market. And yet, in recent months some people have maintained that these 'traditional' production activities have no future in Italy, that in the face of competition from China they cannot be defended, even by the Government, that the districts model on which they are based is now obsolete and that we are forty years behind the great hi-tech centers of other countries.

Perhaps these people include many who have criticized Italy because in the 1990s Italian exports were facilitated by the devaluation of the lira (which we prefer to describe as devaluation to 'compensate' for the unremitting inefficiency of the system-country). If this is the case, then they forget that from 2001 to 2004, in other words, in a period of 3 years, the renminbi was devalued by 28% compared to the euro, more or less the same thing that happened to the lira between '92 and '95 against the German marc. The difference between the China of today (which also exploits a series of social and environmental dumpings) and Italy at that time is that after 1995 the lira-German marc exchange-rate recovered rapidly to our disadvantage and the situation levelled with the par entry of the various currencies in the euro zone.

Vice-versa, with a euro/dollar exchange-rate of 1.30 and the renminbi still anchored to the dollar, the devaluation of China's currency compared to 2001 has reached 31%, and with an exchange-rate of 1.35 dollars to the euro it even rises to 34%. Faced with this competitive devaluation by its direct competitor (Italy is the first in the world for exports of jewelry and eyewear, and second to China for footwear and leather goods), the Fiamp sectors do well to act as 'a team', while a certain simple Italian culture seems to be more oriented towards demeaning our manufacturing specialization and envying other countries.

Not of the same opinion, as well as many others from abroad, is French prime minister Raffarin, who admires our SMEs and our districts. And very few people know that the added value generated by the Fiamp sectors is greater than that of the French aeronautical industry, which includes the center at Toulouse, often quoted as a success case. Just as we ignore that exports by the Italian fashion accessories sectors (14.3 billion dollars in 2002) alone compensate for many of our weaker hi-tech sectors, such as pharmaceuticals, where countries like France, the United Kingdom and Germany are all ahead of us with exports of 5-6 billion dollars more than ours. Italy's export of pharmaceuticals together with the 'poor' footwear-leather goods-eyewear-jewelry axis segment rises to 23.2 billion dollars and is ahead of the same mix in France (18.9), Germany (18.5) and the UK (17.7).

Therefore, The Made in Italy figures are not to be underestimated and it is important to work as a 'team' with our 'traditional' sectors which are threatened by asymmetric and unfair competition from Asia. This must be the real priority of today's industrial policy».

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