ROME: Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio has stressed the importance of consolidating his country’s historic relations with Saudi Arabia ahead of his visit to the Kingdom on Sunday.
Speaking exclusively to Arab News, he said both governments were fully aligned and shared common interests and strategic priorities that provided the foundations for an all-encompassing long-term relationship.
While in Riyadh, Di Maio will review several aspects of Saudi-Italian relations and ways to strengthen them, in addition to discussing regional and international issues of mutual concern.
He noted that Italy would be organizing celebratory events later this year to mark the 90th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations. Italy was one of the first countries to recognize the Kingdom’s status.
Di Maio said: “Italy was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the early 1930s and 2022 marks a very important anniversary in our longstanding friendship.”
On Monday, he will co-chair the 12th session of the Saudi-Italian Joint Commission with Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan, and also attend the Saudi-Italian Investment Forum, where institutions and enterprises from both countries will meet to develop further partnerships.
“Back then, Italy and Saudi Arabia decided to start a strategic dialogue, and my visit aims at consolidating our long-lasting relationship by exploring new areas of cooperation and partnership. The 12th session of the joint commission that I will chair on Monday with Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan will specifically focus on this goal.
“High-tech Italian companies attending the event could contribute to the Kingdom’s goals of a more diversified economy, especially in the fields of sustainability and energy transition,” he added.
Saudi-Italian relations have been driven toward more political, economic, and cultural development. They have their roots entrenched in sound cooperation, with Italy being one of the Kingdom’s main historical trading partners.
Similar to many nations with long-established Saudi links, Italy has a shared vision aimed at developing and maintaining friendship ties.
Di Maio praised the Saudi leadership for making “significant social developments, especially as far as women empowerment is concerned,” adding that his country was, “ready to provide all the support the Kingdom needs to implement its reforms further.”
The 35-year-old minister is considered one of the most prominent figures in the Italian political arena.
Last week, he established a parliamentary group called Together for the Future (IpF), a breakaway from the Five Star Movement, the populistic party founded by Italian comedian Beppe Grillo and where Di Maio began his political career. The new group will support the coalition government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
Di Maio pointed out that Italy and Saudi Arabia shared “deep historical ties,” and said he was “delighted” to be returning to the Kingdom following his last visit in January 2021, “when I also had the privilege to visit the magnificent AlUla site.”
He noted that Rome’s cooperation with Riyadh had “been growing throughout the years in all areas,” including political, cultural, scientific, and technological collaborations, and sectoral partnerships.
“We look forward to boosting further our cooperation in the fields of infrastructure, new technologies, smart economy, tourism, and green transition,” Di Maio added.
During 2021, bilateral trade between the two nations topped $8.6 billion, a 32.9 percent increase on 2020. Italy is Saudi Arabia’s seventh-largest supplier of goods, and the Kingdom ranks 21 in goods supplied to Italy. Saudi Arabia provides approximately 9 percent of Italy’s oil imports.
The Observatory of Economic Complexity, the world’s leading data visualization tool for international trade statistics, in 2020 showed Saudi exports of $3.18 billion to Italy, with the top products being crude oil worth $1.7 billion, refined oil at $931 million, and $97.9 million of ethylene polymers.
Over the last 25 years, Italian exports to Saudi Arabia have increased at an annualized rate of 3.31 percent, from $1.67 billion in 1995 to $3.77 billion in 2020.
Oil and gas supplies will be on the agenda during official meetings in the Kingdom as Italy, along with Germany, approved the opening of Russian ruble accounts earlier in May for companies to be able to continue buying Russian oil and gas without violating the letter of sanctions imposed by the EU on Russia.
Di Maio said: “There is always room for improvement though. We count on strengthening our cooperation in the oil as well as in the natural gas sectors.”
Italy agreed with its EU partners to cut Russian crude imports by 2023 — in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine — a move that Draghi called “a complete success.”
The Italian foreign minister added: “(Saudi Arabia is a) key partner for regional stability in the Middle East and the Gulf for Italy. Therefore, we deeply value our dialogue on the main regional files.
“We firmly believe that the broader Mediterranean is a region of opportunities, where fruitful synergies among people and economies can be established. We share this commitment with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and we stand ready to work together toward those common goals.”
As members of the G20, Saudi Arabia handed over the honorary gavel as a token of the G20 Presidency’s transition to Italy, which held the 2021 G20 presidency. And as fellow members of the G20 Troika, Di Maio highlighted the role of both nations’ commitment to continue working in the same spirit of cooperation and solidarity for strong sustainable and inclusive growth and help, “devise a coordinated response to global challenges.”
On the issue of cooperation, he said: “My participation these days in the joint commission and business forum proves once more our commitment to celebrating this anniversary by strengthening our cooperation in traditional and new sectors.
“Much remains to be achieved, but Italy is ready to provide all the support the Kingdom needs to further implement its reforms. In that spirit, I am confident that the Saudi-Italian Investment Business Forum that I will co-chair on June 27 will turn out as a success and will be a trigger to foster new industrial and trade partnerships.”