ROME: The Italian government has praised Saudi Arabia’s running of the G20 amid “very challenging” circumstances due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, and expects the forthcoming G20 Summit, held in the Kingdom, to embolden a “strong commitment” on multilateralism.
“I want to compliment Saudi Arabia for running the G20 in these really unprecedented circumstances,” Italian Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Ivan Scalfarotto, who will represent his country at the summit, said.
In an interview with Arab News, Scalfarotto, 55, who is in charge of the foreign trade dossier of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government, expressed his “deep sympathy for the difficult conjuncture that the Kingdom is facing due to the pandemic,” adding: “We are all in the same boat.”
Elected to the Italian Chamber of Deputies for the Partito Democratico, and now a member of Italia Viva, Scalfarotto has a proven business background, having worked for several years in managerial positions in the City of London.
“Saudi Arabia had to handle the G20 in a very challenging time, also from an organizational perspective, because when we meet at multilateral fora, we tend to work with each other. Of course, there are formal meetings, but there’s also a lot of opportunities to talk to each other, cooperate and work on single issues,” he said.
Scalfarotto recalled that, normally, a number of meetings would run in tandem alongside summits such as the G20.
“In this case it was not possible, so I would say that the Saudi presidency did very well to keep us together and to keep the work flowing, in spite of the very difficult circumstances. We really appreciated their work and their commitment, and especially their ability to bring to our attention the most important issues we’re facing at this very moment.”
The undersecretary has high expectations for the G20 summit. “Especially after this pandemic we’re currently facing, what we need to see is a strong commitment of multilateralism,” he said, adding he was convinced that “this huge unprecedented challenge showed us that the only way forward for the world economy is strengthening the multilateral institutions in charge of regulating trade and economic relations.
“We are in the process of appointing a new director general (at the World Trade Organization). We know that the dispute settlement body has been stuck for some time already. So I think that what we have learned — the hard way — in facing this pandemic is that we need to leverage each other’s strengths and make sure that we get more integration; more globalization, not less globalization, within a multilateral and rule-based system.”
The pandemic, Scalfarotto believes, “has been, and actually represents, an unprecedented challenge.” He recalled that the last major pandemic the world went through before COVID-19 was the 1918 “Spanish flu,” but added: “The world was completely different at that time. There was no internet. People were not traveling around. There was no globalization. In a way, the world seemed so much, much bigger at that time.
“Thanks to technology, now it is smaller, and this huge infection has basically hit all the continents.”
However, Scalfarotto is confident of a better future, and that the pandemic will be defeated.
“History has taught us that humans were always able to face this kind of challenge. And I believe that the level of technology we have available now will be very, very important and useful for us all,” he said.
“I also believe that this will be something that forces us to carry out reforms that are needed in so many countries,” he added, highlighting bureaucracy as one. “But we also need to increase digitalization processes around the world. Then, I think of everything related to the environment, and sustainability.
“Most of the time, if they are well-handled, crises can turn into opportunities. We will have to restart and build with a brand new approach to the economy, with more attention to technological development and sustainability. It is a hard time, but I’m confident that Italy and the rest of the world will make it in the end.”
Scalfarotto also talked about the bilateral relations between Italy and Saudi Arabia, which he called “very good.”
Between the two countries, he said, “there are many areas of mutual interest. I would say that the business relations and political relations between Italy and Saudi Arabia are very good. Vision 2030 is a very important framework to develop cooperation in many sectors.”
He added he wanted to see improvement of bilateral cooperation in several fields, from infrastructure to manufacturing, but also in other sectors such as logistics, energy, health care, tourism and entertainment.
“There are so many fields where our economies and our skills are complementary. I’m sure we will be working together in an even more cohesive way so that we can build on our cooperation, for the benefit of both our countries.
“In the past years we have worked together very well, especially in the oil and gas industry,” he added. “A number of Italian companies have worked together with Saudi Aramco in that field, contributing to make the Kingdom a global leader in oil and gas. I believe that a portion of the success of Saudi Arabia in that sector comes also out of Italian competencies and quality.” For this reason, Scalfarotto believes that the G20 Summit could be an occasion for new political and business deals between Italy and the Kingdom. For the moment Scalfarotto does not want to show his cards, but he is definitely confident.
“I hope so, of course. I’m not in a position to comment on this because you wouldn’t comment on deals that are not closed.” He said. “But let me say that it is another opportunity to work together very positively.
“When you have a good business relationship and good political relations, sooner or later new deals come up. So I’m sure we will see something coming up in the close future.”