After being hit by the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Italian exporters working with the Chinese market said sales appeared to be improving in the final part of 2020, while recent data showed encouraging signs of recovery for the overall "Made in Italy" exports.
"In spring, our sales to all our retail customers operating in malls in China stopped, while those to clients operating on digital and TV sales channels kept a good rhythm," Gino Di Luca, chief executive officer of jewelry company Cameo Italiano, told Xinhua.
But online and offline sales both "have returned to last year's values after the summer, so we are expecting to close this year at the same level as in 2019, overall," he said.
Now in its third generation, the family company produces hand-made Italian cameos jewelry.
Di Luca explained that Chinese consumers were showing interest in the brand and in the artisan craft expressed by the company's product, as confirmed during their participation in the third China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai.
"As such, we have planned to register our Cameo Italiano company in Shanghai in 2021 to directly manage the B2B and B2C distribution on online and offline channels," Di Luca said.
The firm also planned to invest in direct digital communication in China, and their turnover target for 2021 there would be a 100 percent rise against the 2019-2020 period, he said.
CONFIDENCE FOR CHINA GROWTH
According to the latest official statistics available, Italian sales abroad in September rose for the first time since February, when the COVID-19 broke out in the country.
The overall sales increased by 3 percent against September 2019, and by 8.2 percent against the previous month, with significant growth on some key non-European Union (EU) markets.
Exports to China grew by 33 percent on an annual basis, the highest growth among all non-EU markets, according to the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT).
South American countries followed with 16.1 percent, Switzerland with 15.7 percent, Turkey with 13.8 percent, and the United States with 11.1 percent.
For Giacomini Asia-Pacific Limited, sales to the Chinese market in the first quarter of 2020 amounted to 49 percent of those registered in the same period of 2019, due to the outbreak and the following lockdown in the country early this year, according to its Executive Chairman Roberto Ferraro.
The Italian group is a leading manufacturer of distribution components and systems for heating, with branches and exclusive partners in 16 countries and regions across the world, and has been operating in Asia for some 40 years now.
Ferraro said prospects seemed to be improving after China overcame the emergency and the Chinese market gradually restored consumer confidence.
"In this sense, the Chinese government's action, with its many initiatives to support recovery, was crucial in order to help businesses there resume production," Ferraro told Xinhua.
Yet, while things in China were getting back to normal, the pandemic hit Italy hard, causing many troubles to export firms such as Giacomini, whose production is fully based on Italian soil.
Italy's about two-month-long lockdown caused "significant delays in production, shipments, and therefore in the fulfillment of our orders from China," Ferraro recalled.
Nonetheless, the manager sounded positive.
He explained in the final part of 2020, with consumption and investments in China rapidly recovering, their sales there have grown steadily, though they would expect "an overall 34 percent drop in 2020 against 2019 in values."
"Yet, our forecast for 2021 is undoubtedly to return to pre-pandemic investment and sales levels, if not even to surpass them," Ferraro stressed.
They believed the pandemic brought about greater attention to the need for comfortable, healthy, and sustainable homes and workplaces, and "the radiant heating sector and the comfort and the sustainable living concept has kept developing this year."
"Therefore, we do believe sometimes opportunities and challenges can coexist," Ferraro said.
MORE EXPORTS LIKELY
Businesses' expectations appeared somehow corroborated by analysts.
Among Italy's foreign markets of reference, China ranked 9th last year, the Italian governmental Trade and Investment Agency (ICE) recently stated. Four Italian sectors are especially strong -- machinery, chemical products, textile, and clothing.
The pandemic has inevitably affected the bilateral exchange, and Italian sales to China fell by 21.9 percent in the first five months, according to data from ICE and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
Yet, exports would be once again crucial for Italy's economic recovery, as confirmed by the governmental "Pact for Export" launched in June, entailing investments worth 1.4 billion euros (1.6 billion U.S. dollars) to help businesses internationalize.
And within this strategy, Asia including China was seen as pivotal.
"The global trade recovery in 2021 will be led by the aggregate of Asian emerging countries, with China leading," ICE wrote in its last report issued in cooperation with Prometeia think-tank.
"A greater use of e-commerce in these countries could become structural, acting as a driving force for trade, especially for consumer goods," the analysts added.
According to the projections of the ICE report, exports to China could grow by about 18 percent in 2021-2022 (compared with 2019), the third highest expected rise at the global level for Italy. (1 euro = 1.18 U.S. dollars) Enditem