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04/07/2017
THE "TOOLBOX"

 

Interview with Carlo Calenda

 

Automatic and totally neutral measures for all the sectors. The Minister of Economic Development Carlo Calenda explains why Industry 4.0 is not a state-controlled  plan and invites all stakeholders  to consolidate exports in a framework of fair and mutually shared international rules.

Martina Mondelli - L'imprenditore

Automatic and totally neutral measures for all the sectors. The Minister of Economic Development Carlo Calenda explains why Industry 4.0 is not a state-controlled  plan and invites all stakeholders  to consolidate exports in a framework of fair and mutually shared international rules.

 

Six months after the Government’s presentation of  “Italia 4.0”, a digital transformation program for the whole national industry, what are some of the initial comments we can make about the current state-of-affairs?

The plan was introduced at the end of September and has already been implemented in the 2017 Budget Act. This is a significant result, not to be taken for granted, especially if one considers the huge investments made in terms of public resources, which will amount to approximately € 20 billion over the next three years . The main measures have just entered into force, therefore it is still far too premature to make an assessment of their effectiveness. However, the plan has publicly identified clear and well-defined targets, in a fully transparent operation, that will enable all stakeholders - policy makers and observers - to check the plan’s performance and progress over the coming months.

What makes this industrial plan different from similar ones adopted in the past?

The plan is based on a key assumption: Italy has a solid industrial tradition that, in order to be preserved and nurtured, needs innovation. The fourth industrial revolution, thanks to the widespread adoption of new technologies, requires a profound transformation of the methods traditionally used by companies to produced value, innovation and wealth. Today, small and large Italian companies alike are faced with new opportunities to be seized as far as production process efficiency, cost reduction and productivity improvement are concerned, as well as in terms of different products and business models. Of course, as with any technological revolution, one must be able to upgrade and innovate: the fourth industrial revolution is both a threat and an opportunity. Therefore, there was a need for a policy capable of stimulating virtuous innovative production processes and methods at a systemic level, dedicated to the entire national production framework without distinction of sector, size, location or legal form. Finally, the plan is based on automatic measures, immediately operational and predominantly of a fiscal nature, all features that sets it apart from similar ones adopted in the past.

 

What commitment does the government require from companies on “Industria 4.0”?

The plan has been designed for businesses and provides them with the necessary tools to promote competitive growth. In order to guarantee its success, a process of direct communication with all the stakeholders as well as a thorough promotion of the contents of the plan through road-shows got underway along with a communication plan aimed at illustrating the measures taken. Of course, the outcome and the success of this initiative depend on the extent to which entrepreneurs want to make use of the tools that are now available to them. Entrepreneurs, therefore, are called upon to make their own contribution, becoming an active part of the fourth industrial revolution.

                                                                                                          

How do you respond to claims that the plan's layout is linked to a vision of a state-planned economy?

The principles inspired by the plan are the exact opposite of a “Dirigiste” policy. No discretionary allocation of funds is provided by ministerial bureaucracies, but by automatic measures; the selection of sectors and technologies deserving to be rewarded will not be performed around a table, but will follow a strict logic of total neutrality. The plan is not based on strategies aimed at outlining our future national production system; rather, all the stakeholders will have access to the necessary instruments to support innovative processes and key transformations in view of the future.

 

In addition to measures to promote private investment, the plan looks also at intensifying the existing dialogue and cooperation with the academic world. How so?

The Fourth Revolution will radically change the job market, new trades will be created while others will almost certainly disappear; this, in turn, generates the need for effective training programs to create the necessary skills to govern this process of transformation from now on. One of the strategic guidelines of the plan involves the spreading of a 4.0 culture throughout the entire academic cycle, from school to university, from higher technical colleges to PhD courses.

 

These measures for the Industry are inserted within a framework of overall international uncertainty. With globalization being accused, trade protectionism is making a comeback and we are increasingly hearing about defending national interests. What will the effects of all this be in the long run?

Of course, the protection of national interests is the natural goal of every government. The point is how best to safeguard national interests, bearing in mind also their overall framework and not the single "objective". Globalization has had some positive effects: it has taken hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, favoring, at the same time,  the spread of basic rights and facilitating cultural osmosis. However, globalization has also produced inequalities and, as far as international trade is concerned, the wealth created has not been evenly distributed among all the subjects of the international community as well as individual countries, starting with the European Union and our own country. If we were to hide to both ourselves and our citizens, these inequalities, we would actually be feeding this protectionist thrust. Nevertheless, if we were to adopt a protectionist view, we would run the risk of cancelling the positive effects that international trade has produced over the past twenty years. In short, the alternative is not between protectionism and international trade, but between unrestrained globalization and trading in a framework of fair and mutually shared rules.

 

What political and economic strategy should Italy adopt in this context?

Let me start with some facts: in 2015, Italian exports totaled over 412 billion euro, with a contribution towards our national GDP of around 30%. During the January-November 2016 period, Italian exports reached 380.8 billion, with a positive balance of 45.8 billion. The only possible strategy, therefore, is not to disperse this growth and employment potential linked to our exports, which, on the contrary, must be consolidated. All this without forgetting what has just been said: inequalities are there and must be corrected. On the one hand, we need to address our unexpressed export potential by promoting expertise and innovation if we want to increase the competitive edge of our companies on the international market. On the other hand, we need to ensure that trade takes place in a framework of mutually shared rules. There are two distinct lines of action which the European Commission, which has the exclusive responsibility in the field of international trade, must be able to interpret: the consolidation of the current framework based on common rules; the implementation of the necessary tools to ensure that these rules are respected. These are two of the “battles” Italy is currently “fighting” in Brussels to counteract dumping, whether social or environmental, and push the EU to adopt an efficient trade protection system.

 

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