BRI in Italy: China knocks on Europe’s front door

As various local and international sources recently reported, Italy is set to become the largest economy and first core-EU or G7 member state to formally join China’s global Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). As Michele Geraci, Italy’s undersecretary in the Economic Development Ministry told the FT, “The negotiation is not over yet, but it is possible that it will be concluded in time for [Xi Jinping's] visit…we want to make sure that ‘Made in Italy’ products can have more success in terms of export volume to China, which is the fastest-growing market in the world.”

Although the details of Italy’s involvement in BRI remain to be seen – in particular, given Italy’s inability to sign unilateral trade agreements as an EU member state – the news is likely to garner mixed reactions. Closer engagement with the world’s second-largest economy (and largest exporter, exporting nearly US$2.5tn in 2018, according to the ITC) will certainly seem appealing on balance, but this has not prevented an influx of early criticism. The White House’s National Security Council Spokesman was quoted as stating “we are sceptical that the Italian government’s endorsement will bring any sustained economic benefits to the Italian people, and it may end up harming Italy’s global reputation in the long run...”

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