(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) Italy marks its 68th Republic Day on June 2 this year.
The Italian Embassy in Oman will mark the occasion with celebrations at the ambassador's residence. Muscat Daily spoke with H E Paola Amadei, the Italian Ambassador to understand the significance this day holds for Italians and also review bilateral relations between the sultanate and Italy. Excerpts:
What is the significance of Republic Day for Italians?
The day marks the birth of the Italian Republic. On June 2, 1946 a referendum was held and citizens voted for Italy to become a republic. Every year since then, a grand military parade is held in central Rome to commemorate the day. The parade is presided over by the President of Italy.
How would you describe Italian presence in Oman?
There are around 250 Italian professionals living in Oman. The Italian community in Oman is not very big in number, but it is a very qualified community. Italian presence has more than tripled over the last year. There are now about 40 Italian companies operating in the sultanate. Also, the number of Italian tourists who visit Oman is steadily growing. The same applies to Omanis who are increasingly travelling to Italy, both for leisure and business. The number of visas issued by the Embassy of Italy in 2013 exceeded 4,400 compared to 1,100 in 2002, which is a 400 per cent increase.
How have the bilateral relations between Oman and Italy evolved over the years?
The diplomatic relations [between Oman and Italy] were initiated in 1972. Italy and Oman have very strong ties in the realm of political, economic, cultural and scientific cooperation. Italy looks at Oman as a reliable partner with which we can exchange views on all major political issues. It is an important partner, not only for Italy, but also for the European Union. Over the years, we have signed bilateral agreements on economic and technical cooperation; cultural and scientific cooperation; promotion and protection of investments; convention to avoid double taxation; MoUs in the defence sector and that on air services as well as the recent agreement for the visa exemption on diplomatic, service and special passports. Oman will participate at Milan EXPO 2015 with an outstanding pavilion.
Oman has had two high-level visits from Italy in the last two years. The then Prime Minister Mario Monti visited in November 2012 followed by the then Foreign Minister Emma Bonino in July 2013. What impact have these high-level visits had on bilateral ties?
These visits play a key role in taking the relations forward. Prime Minister Monti met His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said and also held talks with H E Sayyid Badr bin Hamad bin Hamood al Busaidi, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Minister Bonino delivered an invitation from the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano to His Majesty to pay an official visit to Italy. Both PM Monti and Minister Bonino have underlined the wisdom and capability of Oman to aggregate consensus...and to propose itself as an element of balance and stability in the region and as a responsible actor in the international community.
Foreign Minister Bonino also attended the fourth round of Oman-Italy Joint Commission meeting. What was the outcome?
The year 2013 was particularly significant for development of our bilateral relations. On July 7-8, the meeting of the Oman-Italy Joint Commission took place in Muscat. On this occasion, Foreign Minister Bonino and H E Sayyid Badr bin Hamad bin Hamood al Busaidi signed a joint declaration that further consolidated the relations between Italy and Oman. The next Joint Commission will be held in Rome in 2015 at a ministerial level. We also expect a delegation of leading businessmen from Oman.
A new government has taken office in Italy in February. Can we expect more high-level visits?
Of course. We are working to have more visits to Oman. The Italian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lapo Pistelli visited Muscat on May 10-11. This underlines the continuous engagement of Italy towards Oman. We expect an official visit from Oman any time now.
What are the key areas of economic cooperation?
Italy is one of the leading manufacturing countries worldwide. Over the past five years, the value of the manufacturing for export grew 16 per cent. The potential for bilateral cooperation in the economic field is enormous. Italian companies are highly qualified to contribute to Oman's forward- looking infrastructure plan constructing beautiful public buildings, universities, hospitals, five-star hotels and resorts, residential projects, roads, ports, airports and railways. What is common between Oman and Italy is the sense of beauty and the attention to quality. Italy's small and medium enterprises (SMEs) offer avenues for cooperation with Omani counterparts. Also, there is a great potential for Made in Italy' products, from design and architecture to fashion, furnishing and food.
What is the progress in the fields of cultural and scientific cooperation?
We have a long and successful collaboration in the field of archaeology, restoration and conservation of cultural heritage. The universities of Pisa and Bologna are cooperating with the Omani authorities in archaeological excavations. Projects are going on as well in the health sector (genetics in particular). The Embassy of Italy is working to promote the teaching of the Italian language in Oman and to increase academic relations, with the objective of encouraging young Omanis to study in Italy. In the field of culture particularly music and arts... ample possibilities exist for collaborations with the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra and with the Royal Opera House Muscat.
Italy's major exports to Oman
-In 2013 Italy exported goods for ‚435.4mn (RO220mn approx). To this figure, an almost equal amount should be added as exports that transit for the marketplace in Dubai with Oman as a final destination. In the past year, the total bilateral trade increased to ‚576.5mn (RO288mn approx).
-The main products exported to Oman are general machinery, particularly for the marble industry, which represents almost 25 per cent of the total, followed by transport equipment, metal and electronic equipment. The excellence of Italian machinery is appreciated worldwide, not only for the high quality, but also for the high technological content and research as well as post-sales service.
Italy's major imports from Oman
-In 2013 Italy imported goods worth about ‚141mn (RO69mn approx) from Oman, a 50 per cent increase over the previous year.
-The main imports include chemicals, products of mining and quarrying, metals, plastics, and agriculture and fisheries produc