Kazakhstan, Italy celebrate 30 years of diplomatic relations, eye increased cooperation in green energy and creative industry
NUR-SULTAN. KAZINFORM - Kazakhstan and Italy celebrate 30 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations on August 21, 1992. The June 1 visit of Kazakhstan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mukhtar Tileuberdi to Rome sought to strengthen bilateral relations with Italy across many areas. Kazinform spoke to Marco Alberti, Ambassador of Italy to Kazakhstan, to learn what has been achieved over the years and what stands next in the bilateral relations between the two countries.
You have been to Kazakhstan on your mission since September 2021. On a personal note, what has been your impression of Kazakhstan so far?
Well, I think that it is the best place where I can be now. Geographically, but also geostrategically, Central Asia has been drawing importance. I am very happy because Italy has a consolidated and long-time presence in Kazakhstan. We are celebrating 30 years of our diplomatic relations and I felt very welcomed here in Kazakhstan, which is very important for me and my family. That is fantastic. My responsibility is to transform this warm welcome that I received into project initiatives and the privileged relations between Italy and Kazakhstan into a true partnership. We have done well, but now we have to plan the future. Involving the young generations of Italians and Kazakhs who will be protagonists of the next 30 years.
As Kazakhstan and Italy mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations, could you share your thoughts on what are the key achievements over this period?
Our bilateral relations are excellent. I do not say it in a rhetorical way. On a multilateral level, for example, we are sharing a lot of positions and we are cooperating on many topics. To give an example, Italy supported Kazakhstan’s candidacy for the United Nations Human Rights Council last year and Kazakhstan also supported several Italian candidacies. In 2019, we launched the 1+5 Central Asia Coordination Initiative, which Kazakhstan joined and to which it is contributing very significantly.
On the economic side, we have 250 Italian companies working here and 170 joint ventures. A new joint-venture has been just established between the Italian company, Petrolvalves, and the Kazakh Merlion Group, with the purpose of creating an innovative technology and service center in Aksai, West Kazakhstan. I am sure that we will increase the number of joint ventures very soon.
Not less important, over the years our countries have built a very solid inter-university cooperation. We have 98 inter-university agreements in place between the universities of Italy and Kazakhstan. Last year we issued more than 1,000 visas for Kazakh students going to Italy for studying or academic reasons. I am happy, but not satisfied. There is a lot of potential still partially unexpressed in our relations and I want to work on that unexplored potential, playing on the complementarity between our two countries. To create value and make a difference, we should be able to develop new opportunities, not only to consolidate the business that we already have here, unleashing the creativity that characterizes Italy and Italians. In sum: our countries have done well, but this is the time to plan the future, not to glorify the past. We have to look ahead to the next 30 years of our relations.
Just recently you have presented the special program called Together Towards 2050. Could you tell us what is the essence of that program?
The title of the program is self-explaining: «2050» expresses our next horizon of reference, while the word «together» is the way to get there. Rather than a list of events, however impactful, we decided to design and structure a comprehensive program of initiatives, based on the principle of mixing events and projects. Events create visibility, but projects create long-lasting cooperation. We tried to play on three basic drivers: cooperation, innovation, and education.
First of all, cooperation, since real value today is co-created. We do not want to do something by ourselves. We want to share ideas, knowledge and resources with our partners. Not Italy in Kazakhstan, but Italy with Kazakhstan. If we invite a violin maestro, we ask them to play with a Kazakh orchestra.
The second point is innovation. We aim at making something new, or to make the usual initiatives in an innovative way. In the same example: we invited a violin player, but we also decided to invite the luthier as well, according to a guide-line of our promotion program, called «Mani esperte» (Expert hands). The purpose is to promote Italy not only through its brands but also through the hands of the Italians that generate quality, elegance, and style. So we have the hands of writers, poets, chefs, designers, farmers, music players, and manufacturers. Italy means quality and quality depends on hands at work.
The third driver of the initiatives presented under the Together Towards 2050 program is education. We committed ourselves to matching any promotional initiative with an educational one. Scholarship for students, master classes, and opportunities to meet artists or entrepreneurs. Thanks to the cooperation between the Embassy and the Seifullin Agrotechnical University, two Kazakh students will go soon to Italy to deepen the techniques of the regenerative and sustainable agriculture.
On the cultural side, we would like to mark the 30th anniversary of our bilateral relations with the opening of the new Italian Cultural Institute in Almaty, the only and one in Central Asia. Culture is a tool of soft power and a privileged channel to consolidate bilateral relations. Culture aggregates and offers a platform to stimulate new initiatives, in the spirit of deep collaboration that I mentioned earlier. The Italian Culture Institute in Almaty will play a key-role in the diffusion of the Italian language. Furthermore, it will organize cultural events of any kind and it will also have to develop new projects based on the nexus between culture and business. The international positioning of a country is not done once and for all; it needs to be continuously adjusted, and culture can help do it.
Kazakhstan’s Deputy Prime Minister - Foreign Minister paid an official visit to Italy at the beginning of June. Considering this, how would you assess the current state of bilateral relations?
As already said, I believe that our bilateral relations are in a very good status of health. No merit of mine, as I just found them in such good conditions. Yet everyone, even diplomats, has the task of leaving things better than they found them. Therefore, my responsibility is to take our relations to an upper level, which means turning them into a real, comprehensive partnership. Usually, when I elaborate on this concept, people ask me what the difference between privileged relations and partnerships is. First of all, I guess that the latter implies a deeper level of trust between the parties. Secondly, it requires the availability of any partner to fix some shared strategic goals with the others.
Third, a partnership needs to be based on a continuous exchange of knowledge, not only on a mutual exchange of products and services. To give an example, I would mention energy as a favorable sector for Italy and Kazakhstan to establish a real, strategic partnership. Our companies have been working here since the very beginning of the independence and they are trusted partner of public and private Kazakh counterparts. There are all the necessary conditions to scale up the Italy-Kazakh privileged relations on the traditional energy to a strategic partnership on the green energy domain. Recently, speaking at the Saint Petersburg Forum, President Tokayev said that the country should significantly increase the investment in the green industry, with special reference and focus to circular economy. Not many know that Italy is a superpower in the circular economy and in the green energy industry. We have the largest utility in Europe, Enel, with more than 50GW of installed renewable capacity. Probably Italy has the most digitized distribution system worldwide and the country can count on 440,000 small and medium companies which have been investing in green products and technology for the last five years. Most of these SMEs are innovative, competitive, and internationalized. They possess relevant knowledge than can be shared to partner with Kazakh players. Actually, we are already on this page. ENI-Arm Wind is working on relevant renewable generation projects in the country, to help it accelerate the ecological transition and reach out to carbon neutrality by 2060.
That is very relevant as Kazakhstan seeks to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 and both Italy and the European Union are also committed to that pledge as well.
Absolutely. Italy has co-chaired the COP26 in Glasgow and we keep working intensively on this. Given the circumstances, the top priority is to prevent the current geopolitical situation from pushing back the ecological transition. For any country, including Kazakhstan, it is time to move from aspiration to execution. High ambition, clear strategy, concrete projects, fast advancement. The fight against climate change, indeed, is a challenge for the entire humankind. In the years to come, the difficulty will be to manage many global, intertwined challenges simultaneously. Fighting the climate change, i.e., also means coping with migrations. According to the World Bank, by 2050 there will be more than 200 million climate migrants. People who leave their places for climate reasons. Likewise, the fight against climate change implies a strong digital acceleration. No ecological transition is possible without a digitalization push. Both these twin challenges generate a third one, which is geopolitical. Both, indeed, have the power to redistribute power, influence, and relations among states.
How would you assess the current trade and investment relations between Italy and Kazakhstan?
Italy is still the second client of Kazakhstan worldwide and the eighth exporter to the country. In 2019, we broke the record of €2.7 billion in bilateral exchange. Then, the pandemic hit hard and we lost part of that value. Now it is time to recover. The goal I give myself and my team is to go back to the pre-pandemic level of trade exchange by the end of 2024. We have two years of hard work, but I think it is possible.
On the investments side, Italy is one of the most relevant players in this country, even though the figures, for technical reasons, do not always reflect well the entity of our investments. Overall, we have 250 companies working here. Others are ready to come, explore and land the country. Last year the embassy organized a business forum; more than 600 companies joined. On June 1, by side of Minister Tileuberdi’s visit to Rome, our government organized a business meeting. Some of the 30 companies that participated showed serious interest in Kazakhstan as a country to invest. I am already working with four or five of them, confident that there will be good news very soon. Energy, agri-business, pharmaceutical and creative industries the most promising sectors. Just take the creative and cultural industries, to give an example: in Italy, these generate more than €33 billion of revenue and employ 500,000 people. My aspiration is to have an Italian hub for the creative industry in Kazakhstan, to attract new companies, universities, and qualified stakeholders to work together.
What do you think makes Kazakhstan attractive for Italian companies?
Kazakhstan has everything. You have natural resources. You have the technology and, most importantly, you have brain. One of the most relevant and significant resources of Kazakhstan is not its land, but it is the brain of its people. I met a lot of smart people here who just need to unleash their creativity and prove their entrepreneurial capacity. The set of political and institutional reforms that Kazakhstan has presented, approved with the constitutional referendum held on June 5, will help to create an even more favorable business environment, for both foreign and Kazakh investors. Our responsibility, as diplomats, is to encourage and support companies to come and invest. The time to discover Kazakhstan is now; the window of opportunities will not remain open forever. Now is the time to leverage our historical presence here to seize new opportunities. We will soon fix the date for the Bilateral Economic Commission, which has the task to define the priorities of our economic cooperation.
What are some plans in the education sector?
We have lots of students going to Italy every year. A good trend that makes us happy. Notwithstanding, it is not all. I would like to have some Italian universities come to Kazakhstan. We are working on that; last year, we «sponsored» a new agreement between the Seifullin Agrotechnical University and the Future Food Institute; besides, the embassy favored a new agreement, almost to be announced, between KIMEP University and Bologna Business School. Finally, we are promoting talks between the Nazarbayev University and an Italian top-ranked university, to explore areas of cooperation. We want to reinforce exchange at any possible level. Instead, what we do not want to promote is a sort of brain drain. Kazakh students are very smart and they are very welcome in Italy. But we would also like most of them to come back to Kazakhstan.
What are some other projects planned or implemented?
According to the philosophy of mixing events and projects, we are working on both sides. First, some impactful events. At the moment, in Almaty, we have Sinfonia, an immersive and participatory installation by Alessandro Sciaraffa. Still waiting for the green light on a big exhibit dedicated to design as a tool to regenerate domestic and urban spaces, to be held in Nur-Sultan in fall 2022. On a different side, we’re preparing, along with the Italian Trade Agency, The Italian Fashion Days in Almaty, scheduled at the beginning of October 2022.
Regarding the projects, let me recall our commitment to having a direct flight between Italy and Kazakhstan. A direct flight is always a win-win initiative; it is a business in itself and helps generate new business; no manager, and no tourist either, wants to waste time stuck at the airport for a stop-and-go; the easier to fly, the easier to promote business and tourism. The Italian airline Neos bet on Kazakhstan, and we supported that bet, despite the uncertain international circumstances. I think we won the bet. From June 11th we have a direct flight connecting Milan and Almaty. There are thousands of people who have pre-booked tickets to Italy on the Neos flights. On our side, we are already working hard to re-staff our Visa Office, in order to meet all the expectations in a reasonable time. Another concrete project to be launched is the new Italian Cultural Institute, which I already mentioned. Last but not least, the Italian Hub for creative industries in Kazakhstan. We are enthusiastic about the idea; we need to work to turn it into a project. The journey has just begun. We need partners to create multi-stakeholder cooperation based on the contribution that each of our stakeholders can offer. Co-creation of value is our keyword. Value for our country, for Kazakhstan, and for our partners.
Written by Assel Satubaldina