HOW IMPORTANT is East Asia for Genoese freight forwarders? Alessandro Pitto, the president of Spediporto, the association of Genoese forwarders, explained, “It is the most important market as shown by the statistics of the port. It is certainly the case for imports, not only for Genoa, but for all of Europe. But also for exports - although with lower volumes - it is one of the most important markets. Several of our associates have opened offices in China; it is traditionally the first country we think of in our industry when we want to open an office abroad.”
China’s boom has been going on for at least 30 years. At the time, finding customers in China was a pioneering enterprise. What changes have there been?
“Today the situation is completely different. My shipping company opened its Shanghai office twenty years ago. At that time, the building in which it was located was in the outskirts of the city, in an area that taxi drivers didn’t even know about. Today the city has grown so much that this same building is now located in the centre. Going to China was a pioneering experience, even though Shanghai was already a cosmopolitan city. Today, for example, the number of young people who speak English and are used to travelling has grown considerably. At that time it was difficult to connect, today with the internet boom we use a lot of mobile phones for example to look at products and their prices”.
What characterizes the country?
“Last year I returned to China on a mission from the Propeller Club. What is striking is the enormous scale on which they operate. They think about infrastructure projects of such magnitude that we find it hard to imagine. That is why it is important for us to present ourselves as the Italian system. For them the importance of Italy is clear, but it is still a small country of sixty million inhabitants, equal to just two of their cities. In order to be part of the choices they make for the Silk Road project, we must show efficiency and make investments easier. We must understand that we are not the centre of the world, we must try to get into their heads.”
China is putting a lot of emphasis on infrastructure.
“China builds infrastructure at great speed, and this is one of its strengths. Recently I was in India for the conference of FIATA, the International Federation of Freight Forwarders. One of the great difficulties facing India, which is also destined to overcome China in terms of its population, is the development of modern infrastructure. This is a huge brake on development. India specializes in computer science, many young people speak English, but the country suffers in comparison with China. It has ports affected by congestion with a lack of adequate docks and connections to the highways.”
What do you think about the New Silk Road project?
“Last year we were in Hong Kong, where a government office was opened to promote the Silk Road. We realized how much everyone has heard about this project. Hong Kong has an ambivalent relationship with China. They were the world’s leading port for containers, and now they have been superseded by Shanghai. But they are keeping us interested in this project; they are holding an annual conference. The Chinese Government is very interested in us, and it would be short-sighted for Europe to reject it a priori or out of fear of colonisation. China is our number one trading partner, so it makes sense for Genoa to be a candidate point terminal or transhipment point on the Silk Road.
What role can the port of Genoa play?
“China has invested in the port of Piraeus and since then container handling has increased from one to four million TEU. But it is difficult to send freight by rail from Piraeus. Genoa and Trieste are natural candidates for this route. Then we’ll see how the project will be worked on in concrete terms, but Genoa can only look upon it favourably. Not to mention that the System Authority also includes Savona, where COSCO has bought 49% of the new container terminal. And that the third rail tunnel is designed so that there are shipping lines that feed it with goods, which are primarily Chinese products.”
Are you afraid of the effects of the US-China Duty War?
“I would like to point out that there are no particular tensions between China and the European Union. Logistics and shipping thrive in a world in which free trade is promoted. Anything that slows that down has an impact on our business, but for the moment we are not concerned.”