Interview with Ivano Russo

Italy lacks an industrial policy

by Marco Casale

“Our country must decide what it wants to do when it grows up: whether to remain a simple transit area, more or less attractive, towards final destinations or whether, instead, to develop an industrial logistic-strategy that propels it towards new goals, at Community and international level. Its geographical position can no longer be the only advantage that our country can offer the market”.

This is the premise of the wide-ranging assessment that Ivano Russo, CEO of Confetra (the Italian Transport & Logistics Confederation – Translator’s Note), gives to Port News. It begins with an analysis of the macroeconomic scenario Italy is currently in today: “We are in the ‘Logistics Century’ as Parag Khanna predicted in 2015: the tariff war, Brexit, Silk Road, Arctic Route, control of 5G, Smart Data, are redefining the major dynamics between the great geo-economic powers. In addtion, we are the only country in the G7 or among the great EU Member States not to have a big international shipment player, an Italian airline able to assert itself in the cargo sector, a leading container shipping line, a great national port terminal operator able to expand its influence in other countries. The truth is that Italy has never wanted or known how to develop an industrial policy for logistics.”

The absence of large national logistics players and terminal operators has had a twofold negative effect: “In the large EU countries, the leading players in the various sectors have helped supply chains to grow through so-called cluster mechanisms. This has also happened in Italy, in many sectors, but not in the logistics one. Just think of what firms like Alenia, Fiat and Ansaldo have represented for the aerospace, automotive and railway industries, respectively. Hundreds of small and medium-sized companies have been set up around them, client-driven, which are now able to walk on their own two feet. The same dynamics can be observed for the great national food and fashion brands.”

Never having had national leaders in this field, “we have been reduced to serving the great global multinationals that have legitimately, and fortunately, used Italy for their commercial objectives. Our companies, in the vast majority of cases, have been used as mere subcontractors of services, often low added-value ones”.

The other negative effect concerns the fact that Italy is not able to safeguard its own economic interests in the global trade scenario: “Unlike us, Germany can develop an industrial strategy and its own trade balance by having strong arms and legs which its own development projects and economic interests can run with worldwide: I am thinking of DHL, DB, Schenker, Eurokai, Lufthansa Cargo, Hapag Lloyd. The same can be said of Denmark, Holland, France and, on a different scale, also of Belgium and Switzerland.”

The point is this: having an economic-industrial strategy that allows us to lay the foundations for creating a logistics leader at least on a continental scale. In addition, it is important to note that an industrial logistics policy does not only mean creating new infrastructures: “If we continue to build infrastructures but basically remain a goods transit area towards other final destinations, we risk not producing the desired economic growth effects”.

Mr. Russo mentions one example among many: “Between 2000 and 2017, Liguria’s GDP fell by about 6.7%. In 2018, the year of the boom in traffic from the ports of Genoa and La Spezia, the region was still at the bottom of the list among the regions with the lowest Gross Domestic Product, followed only by Molise and Calabria. It would be ridiculous to think that these figures are only the result of not having the Terzo Valico (or “Third Pass” i.e. the Tortona–Genoa high-speed railway – Translator’s Note) or the Gronda (Genoa’s new motorway system– Translator’s Note) . On the other hand, we are talking about the national port hub region and, along with Lombardy, the country’s logistic hub. I want to be clear, infrastructures have to be built, but together with a policy for supporting businesses, for cutting red-tape, improving communication between manufacturing and logistics industries, encouraging free carriage to destination in export, for innovative investments, training, internationalization, clusters and consolidation.”

In short, “it’s not enough to have high-performing ports or railways if there is no overall strategy that allows us to transform logistics into real, widespread wealth”. “Only in this way can you guarantee yourself increasing traffic shares, process goods to add value, redistribute them, and be certain that you are not only attractive because of your proximity to the large catchment areas of Switzerland, Austria, and Germany.”

According to Mr. Russo, “overlapping the logistic gap and the infrastructural gap, as if the former could be fixed automatically by solving the latter, has been a dramatic error, the result of a self-referential transport subculture, which is all and only offer-oriented and cement-centric. The infrastructural issue is part of the problem, not all of it”.

As Professor Ennio Cascetta puts it, logistics is a demand derived from the real economy and infrastructures are a sub-derivative at the service of transport and logistics, provided that this ultimately serves production and consumption: “If we do not start from the real economy, it is useless to talk about a tangible development of the sector. In the last ten years this has grown so much that we now talk about a ‘decoupling’ effect. Yet it hasn’t given any boost to statistics, in a country where the GDP that has been stagnant since 2008.”.

Just as we are discussing a robust plan for air cargo in the Newco ITA, just as new major players are appearing in the logistics business (Enel Logistics), in the same way, according to Russo, we can and must also discuss the possibility of developing an operation that will help the Italian terminal industry to put one or two large champions into play: “But we need to consider the whole picture: This operation would make sense if it is first of all developed within a regulatory framework that avoids illegal market distortions. Then we need an Italia Logistica project: if a new terminal operator, possibly supported by CDP or Invitalia, has to position itself with the same average dimensional scale as the current one in order to enter the same domestic market that moves from port to port, but always within the approximately 11 million Teus that the country has been handling for the last ten years, we only risk wasting time  unnecessarily.”

Translation by Giles Foster

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