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Carlo Ferro, President of the Italian Trade Agency (ICE-ITA), told The Japan Times in early March that he was thrilled at the opportunity to attend Foodex Japan 2019, Asia’s largest food and beverage trade show and now in its 44th year of operation, as one of his first overseas engagements since stepping into the role on Jan. 7.

Almost 15,000 Italian companies are said to export to Japan, and the number of jobs in Italy that EU exports to Japan help support is said to be almost 89,000. Japan comes in 12th place for Italian food and beverage exports, and third among non-EU countries, according to ICE-ITA figures for 2017-2018.

Ferro said the purpose of his visit to Foodex Japan was multifaceted. Citing figures of $11 billion in exports to Japan, he said through visiting the event, he hoped to capitalize on the momentum granted by the recent signing of the economic partnership agreement (EPA) between the European Union and Japan on Feb. 1, an act “which could only expand on the success of countries’ commercial relationship.” Ferro also wanted to give general recognition and thanks to the Japanese market, noting that Italian exports to the country grew 8 percent in 2018.

“The third reason is the relevance and focus on the wine and agri-food strategies of the Italian Trade Agency,” Ferro continued, adding that the fourth reason was to be present, campaign for and support clients in the lead-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where focus will be on increased business supplying the hotel and restaurant industries. “We are focusing on micro, small and medium enterprises, and concentrating our efforts (toward helping all Italian territories) from north to south,” he said, acknowledging the over 190 exhibitors from 16 provinces who showcased their wares at the Foodex Japan Italian pavilion. “Over 40 percent of these companies have fewer than 20 employees,” Ferro stressed.

“I was very impressed with a statement made by State Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Yasuhiro Ozato,,” Ferro said. “He mentioned that trade is not only concerned with merchandise — trade is also about culture and passion. There is, of course, a high level of culture, passion and tradition tied into Italy’s food, agriculture and wine supply,” he continued, noting that the strength of the “Made in Italy” brand is part of the country’s legacy.

Digitalization and e-commerce, supporting young companies and startups and building on the “Made in Italy” brand are all priorities for Ferro over the coming year. “I see significant opportunities where digital technology can support process innovation, including export processes,” Ferro said. “Digital technology can be used to protect the traceability of the product and the denomination of a region. Digital opportunities also abound concerning big data and how this relates to agribusiness, markets and food industries.”

“Italian exports to Japan are in the range of 1.1 percent, but Italian exports on a global basis rank about 3 percent. I think there is a significant opportunity to expand, better align [with the market] and increase appreciation of Italian products by Japanese customers not only in traditional areas like fashion, food, and mechanics, but also in areas like technology where Italy boasts excellence in innovation,” Ferro said.

With promotions of cuisine, foodstuffs and wine from southern Italy; tastings and introductions to Italian cheeses such as Asiago, Fontina, Gorgonzola and Mozzarella di Bufala Campana by Miyuki Murase, director, Cheese Art Fromager Association of Japan; and an in-house cafe staffed by Japan’s award-winning baristas, Italy boasted a sizeable presence at Foodex. “The companies here represent Italy’s typology of food by geography, by territory and by the size of the enterprises,” Ferro concluded, urging potential clients to also keep up to date with announcements from the ITA offices in Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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