Dear readers, the Editorial Board of “EBU” magazine planned to devote the next issue to the development of Uzbek-Italian relations and release it in May this year. However, due to the epidemiological situation around the world, the issue of this issue is postponed to a later date.
The development of Uzbek-Italian relations has a long history. Even in the times of the Roman Empire, and in the middle ages, thanks to the Great Silk Road, our peoples actively developed trade and scientific and cultural exchange. After the declaration of independence of the country, Uzbek-Italian relations received their new, active continuation, which demonstrated the common aspirations of our countries to expand cooperation, which is developed on the basis of the principles of mutual interest, respect, and trust.
Italy recognized Uzbekistan’s independence on January 10, 1992 and established diplomatic relations on March 24 of the same year. In connection with this significant event, we would like to announce and present to your attention an interview with the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Italian Republic to the Republic of Uzbekistan, Mr. Andrea Bertozzi, who kindly agreed to answer our questions, as well as share his assessments of the current state and prospects of bilateral cooperation.
– Mr. Ambassador, this March marks the 28th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Uzbekistan and Italy, but the relations between our peoples were formed much earlier, and they go back centuries. Can you share your opinion about the current level of cooperation, and what common ground our people found in those distant times?
– There is no doubt that the relationship between our peoples goes deep into history, although Uzbekistan and Italy are relatively young countries. Italy, for example, became an independent state in 1861. Even in the era of the Roman Empire, ties between Europe and the East were being established. Proof of this is the coins of the Roman Empire, stored in Tashkent Art Museum. These are coins of Roman emperors (Nero, Constantine I, Domitian, etc.), silver denarii, sculptures with images of Emperor Augustus. The interaction concerned trade, the movement of merchants from East to West, and back. The times of the middle ages, when the Great Silk Road was developed, are also noteworthy. This was made possible by the functioning of caravan roads. If we go back to the Era of the Roman Empire, we would like to note how strong the relations between Rome and Central Asia were. Thus, it is known that the Roman Empire issued a decree prohibiting the wearing of silk clothing for Roman women since the purchase of silk from Asia was a significant item of expenditure for Rome. Another proof is the journey through Asia of Marco Polo, the famous Italian merchant and traveler. During this historical period, the Republic of Venice achieved its prosperity and was influential in its economy and trade. Marco Polo’s father and uncle lived in Bukhara for about three years. It is not known for certain what was the purpose of their long visit, but their plans certainly included opening new markets in Central Asia, since Marco Polo was from a family of wealthy Venetian merchants of jewelry and spices.
It is thanks to such facts that we know of the existence of close cooperation between our countries. This contributed to active interaction in other fields: medicine, astronomy, philosophy, as well as the arrival of values and knowledge from the East to Europe. For example, the great medieval philosopher and physician Avicenna made a significant contribution to the interest of European scientists in the works of Aristotle.
Nevertheless, even today, these relations are deepening and expanding in such areas as culture, economy, and education. As for the future, our task is to continue the work that has been started actively.
– Has the evidence of Marco Polo’s travels to Central Asia survived to this day?
– Of course, the source of information is the book of Marco Polo “Million”. The book described Marco Polo’s travels in the East, including as an Ambassador for the Mongol Khan Kublai, the grandson of Genghis Khan. This book had a significant influence on navigators, cartographers, and writers. It is noteworthy that his accounts of his 24-year travels to the East were recorded by a prisoner who sat with him in the same cell after Marco Polo was captured as a result of the war between the Republic of Genoa and Venice.
The book is one of the most popular objects of historical research. Reading it, you can imagine what Bukhara looked like in those days and compare it with a modern city. The book has been reprinted many times and translated into many languages.
– Let us return to the topic of current relations between Italy and Uzbekistan. Modern Italy has a diversified industrial economy, high GDP per capita, and developed infrastructure. Almost all sectors of the economy in which Italy is strong are of interest to Uzbekistan. In particular, this applies to the automotive, furniture, leather, oil and gas, textile and food industries, agriculture, livestock, wine, medicine, clothing, building materials, and household appliances, as well as financial, transport and communication services. Are you satisfied with the level of bilateral economic cooperation?
– Today, I am thrilled with the established relations between our countries. I am particularly pleased with the results of my work as the Italian Ambassador to Uzbekistan since August 2016. Now we continue to work and intensify our efforts to bring Italian-Uzbek relations to a qualitatively new level. However, my time in office is coming to an end, and the results of this ongoing work will be visible to my new successor.
– The Council of the Europe has approved a new strategy for relations with Central Asian countries. Uzbekistan has always confirmed its interest in expanding comprehensive cooperation with the EU. The previous strategy for EU relations with the Central Asian region was adopted in 2007. How has the situation changed since then, and why was it necessary to develop and adopt a new Strategy?
– The world, including Europe and Asia, has changed dramatically over the past 13 years since the previous Strategy was adopted. There was a need to develop a new Strategy for EU-Central Asia relations, which had more potential for cooperation. It meets the requirements of today. Great emphasis is placed on the development of areas in the field of education, transport, communications, information, and high technologies. As for the economy, we should note the critical fact that since 2017, the EBRD has resumed its activities in Uzbekistan, as well as the European Investment Bank. In December 2019, with the active participation of the Embassy, an international conference “Italy – Central Asia: strengthening mutual understanding, cooperation and partnership” was organized, where the development of cooperation in a positive way in many areas was noted. Speaking about the challenges facing the world community today, I would like to note that the new Strategy pays excellent attention to joint solutions to environmental problems, territorial security, and transport communications. After a long history of constant wars and conflicts, the European Union has come to believe that only together can we solve the urgent problems. Moreover, this applies, in particular, and interaction with the countries of Central Asia. For Italy, Uzbekistan is the most crucial partner that Rome focuses on to ensure stability and security in the Central Asian region.
– Since 1999, there has been a bilateral working group on trade, economic and industrial cooperation and export credits. Our President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has repeatedly called for more active use of the potential of inter-parliamentary cooperation. Can you tell us how we are currently working together to develop concrete proposals for the implementation of this initiative with Italy.
– On May 6-7, 2019 in Rome, the delegation of the Republic of Uzbekistan headed by the Deputy Minister of Investment and Foreign Trade took part in events aimed at activating and expanding trade, economic and investment cooperation with the Italian Republic. The 6th meeting of the Uzbek-Italian Intergovernmental Working Group on Trade, Economic and Industrial Cooperation and Export Credits, an economic seminar, and a business forum “Uzbekistan-Italy” were also held. I would like to note that such events have not been held since 2011. The interest of the parties was shown to such an extent that the organizers had to close the registration of participants ahead of time, so tremendous was the number of applicants. The economic seminar and business forum “Uzbekistan-Italy” was attended by the heads of about 250 leading companies and banks in Italy, as well as representatives of a number of government agencies and financial institutions. Every day we receive requests from Italian businessmen to help us study the market and terms of cooperation. Furthermore, this interest is enormous and growing every year.
– Last November, President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev received a delegation from Italy led by the Governor of the Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana. The meeting discussed prospects for the development of Uzbek-Italian multi-faceted relations, including the expansion of practical cooperation with the region of Lombardy. Can you share some information about this region with our readers.
– Lombardy belongs to the “motors of Europe”, along with Spanish Catalonia, the German land of Baden-Württemberg, and the French region of the Rhone-Alps. It is the leading industrial, intellectual, and cultural center in the European Union, with the highest level of GDP per capita. Lombardy is located in the heart of Europe and is the intersection of East-West (between the Iberian Peninsula and the Balkans) and North-South (between continental and Mediterranean Europe) routes. Thanks to this good geographical location and territorial resources, the nature, history, art, and culture are most harmoniously combined with innovations, advanced technologies, fashion, the entertainment industry, and modernity. This is the most densely populated area of Italy, with about 10 million people living here. Its GDP is 400 billion euros, which is about a fifth of the total Italian GDP. The capital of the region is Milan – the largest city in Northern Italy. In Lombardy, such industries as pharmaceuticals, automotive, light and food industries, and weapons manufacturing are actively developing. For example, Beretta – one of the leading Italian companies for production of weapons and the oldest weapons company in the world; its products are used by police and the army in many countries of the world. By the way, many international and Italian companies have their headquarters in Milan. Lombardy has always been a vital region for silk and textile production, and Milan is a world center of high fashion. Most of the major Italian fashion brands such as Valentino, Versace, Prada, Armani, and Dolce & Gabbana are located in Milan. In addition, it is the central agricultural region of Italy, where the wine industry is very developed.
Therefore, this visit is very important for establishing intensive business contacts and exchanges, implementing joint programs and projects with Italian companies and organizations in the fields of trade, investment, industrial technology, agriculture, health, and tourism.
– Mr. Ambassador, what is the trade turnover between our countries? In your opinion, which sectors of the economy have the best potential for intensifying cooperation, including in the regions?
– During my time as Head of the Italian Embassy in Uzbekistan, the trade turnover between our countries has continuously been increasing. Last year, it grew to 400 million euros. This is certainly not the limit. Italy exports mainly various equipment to Uzbekistan, which indicates that the economy of Uzbekistan needs Italian technologies. I would like to note the similarity of our countries’ strategies in the development of the national economy. In Italy, as well as in Uzbekistan, an important place is given to small business and private entrepreneurship. In this regard, it is imperative to strengthen the bilateral dialogue in order to provide business entities with all the necessary information in order to improve the business environment. An important task is to attract investment in the field of industrial production technologies. Over the past two years, the number of enterprises with Italian capital in Uzbekistan has increased by two times (to 46). Since the beginning of 2019, 15 companies have been created, and 7 Italian companies have been accredited.
– There are many organizations in Italy whose activities are aimed at supporting Italian business abroad. For example, the State Company for Support of Italian Investments Abroad (SIMEST), the Agency for Promotion of Italian Companies Abroad (ICE), the General Confederation of Italian Industry (Confindustria), the Union of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Crafts, and Agriculture (Unioncamere), the Assolombarda Association. Do Italian businessmen face problems in Uzbekistan? What advice would you give to Uzbek companies on effective interaction with business and participation in exhibitions in Italy?
– Of course, representatives of Italy are very comfortable in your country. This is especially true for organized joint meetings, visits, conferences, exhibitions. For business, I think everything is individual, and if there are problems, they can all be solved. I always encourage Italian entrepreneurs to invest in Uzbekistan, and I see a huge potential for mutually beneficial relations here. Any entrepreneur who decides to join a new business must understand and assess the risks that accompany new projects. Nevertheless, at the same time, in addition to risks, there are great opportunities for growth.
As for advice to business, I cannot give recommendations, since I am not a businessman myself. Besides, how can I give advice to the descendants of the great Timurids, the wealthiest merchants and traders?!
– Uzbekistan is actively developing the tourism sector and trying to attract foreigners. How well do Italian citizens know about the tourist potential of our country, and is this a popular destination among tourists in your country?
– The simplification of the visa regime and rules of stay in Uzbekistan, along with the development of infrastructure and promotion of the country’s tourism potential abroad, has led to a twofold increase in the number of Italian tourists visiting the Republic. Uzbekistan has become one of the 15 fashionable tourist destinations for Italians. The Republic attracts them with its thousand-year-old culture. Many Italian citizens have heard about Uzbekistan and its ancient history, and when they learned about the introduction of visa-free travel, they decided to come and see it all with their own eyes. It should be noted that the simplification of entry and stay in the Republic of citizens from foreign countries contributes to the strengthening of cultural and scientific ties, educational interaction at the interstate level, as well as a significant increase in investment, joint business projects and tourist flow to your country.
– Tell our readers what your main goals are as the Head of the Italian Embassy in Uzbekistan?
– I am pleased that I had the honor to be here in Uzbekistan at such a significant period when the country began to open to the world. During my years as Ambassador of Italy, significant work has been done to develop bilateral relations and fruitful projects have been implemented. My task is to ensure that this interaction continues and becomes more intensive every year. Our relations are consistently developing in the fields of education, culture, tourism, sports, and other areas. Since 2009, the Turin Polytechnic University has been successfully operating in Tashkent. Several our universities effectively interact with their partners and colleagues in Samarkand, according to the program of cultural cooperation between Uzbekistan and Italy. The Embassy’s cultural activities also include teaching and promoting the Italian language. The Uzbek State University of World Languages has a native speaker of Italian language and culture, appointed to this position by the Italian Foreign Ministry. Since September 2005, the first Italian Language Department in Uzbekistan has been operating at the Samarkand Institute of Foreign Languages.
– What attracts you to our country?
– What particularly excited me was the thousand-year-old culture and historical heritage of Uzbekistan. The latest discovery is Khiva. This city is perhaps the most special, an open-air Museum. A stunningly authentic old city where there is almost no housing, but there are mosques, minarets, madrassas, and mausoleums.
– Mr. Ambassador, thank you for an interesting conversation.
–And thank you very much. It was an enjoyable conversation.