ECONOMIC DIPLOMACY – FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
FAQs ON ASSISTANCE TO ITALIAN COMPANIES ABROAD
1. Do Italian Embassies and Consulates around the world provide assistance to Italian companies?
Yes. Accompanying and assisting companies in international markets is an important priority for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (Farnesina) and its network abroad, in close collaboration with other Ministries and competent bodies, especially in light of the key role that internationalization plays both in the growth of companies and of our country’s economic system. For this reason, over 200 Diplomatic Offices (Embassies and Consulates) form a network at the service of Italian citizens and businesses around the world. Since 2020, the ICE Agency Offices have become an even closer part of the economic diplomacy of the Farnesina, and operate abroad in close coordination with the Embassy and Consulates. Furthermore, the network works closely with the Italian Chambers of Commerce Abroad.
2. What activities do Embassies and Consulates carry out to support Italian companies abroad?
As part of their economic diplomacy activities, Embassies and Consulates provide information on the market, orientation activities, as well as institutional support with regards to relations with local authorities, when this is deemed necessary. The Offices organize and manage institutional visits by representatives of the Italian government, local authorities and business associations. In addition, they collect, process and comment economic data, and organize promotional events in all sectors. Embassies maintain relations with local Ministries, promote and protect national economic interests, negotiate the removal of barriers to Italian exports and promote investments in Italy. Embassies and Consulates promote and support networking activities in favor of Italian companies, and issue business visas to foreign operators who intend to travel to our country, be it to participate in trade fairs, sign contracts or visit factories. More information can be found here: Visa for Italy.
3. What information can Embassies and Consulates provide?
Embassies and Consulates can provide information on the country or area of interest with regards to the state of bilateral political relations, safety, economic data, local contacts, Italian community in the country of interest (presence of ICE offices, Italian Chambers of Commerce abroad, banks, Italian professional studios or consultants, other Italian companies, influential communities of Italian origin and more), on development cooperation programs and cultural initiatives: all information that can help guide operators in defining their commercial strategies. Moreover, in light of their network of relations and experience in local contexts, Offices can provide advance information on future projects and commercial or investment opportunities.
4. What support can Embassies and Consulates provide with regard to relations with local authorities?
A variety of options. For example, Embassies or Consulates can help in establishing contacts with local institutions (so from the very first phase of market entry), provide support in tender participation or in overcoming any key concerns (customs or tax disputes, intellectual property violations, the raising of non-tariff barriers, or the application of sanctions, etc.).
5. At what point in the internationalization process is it advisable to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (Farnesina) and the diplomatic-consular network?
Ideally, it is best to contact the Farnesina and the diplomatic-consular network from the very start, beginning with the phase of identifying markets and opportunities – in other words, before even entering a foreign market. To that end, interested parties may use the information tools made available by the Farnesina (see FAQ no. 13).
In any event, the Embassy or Consulate of reference should be contacted before departure, in order to arrange a preliminary orientation meeting. This will also serve to understand whether the company needs institutional support or specific services (market studies, identification of commercial partners, consultancy on local legislation, specific services such as interpreting, on-site logistics services, etc.), for which the Embassy or Consulate will refer the company to the competent ICE office or the local Italian Chamber of Commerce (if not available, to consultancy firms and professional offices).
6. So companies may reach out to Embassies and Consulates even if there are no problems?
Yes. Often companies contact Embassies and Consulates only in situations of difficulty. However, albeit assisting companies in resolving disputes with government counterparts or overcoming critical issues that may arise abroad is certainly an integral part of economic diplomacy activities, if the diplomatic network is involved only when problems arise, the effectiveness of its action may be diminished. In light of this, it is advisable to contact the diplomatic-consular network regardless, even if it is only to signal one’s presence in the country, an interest in participating in a tender, or the initiation of contacts with local counterparts. In fact, it is essential that Embassies and Consulates maintain an overall picture of the interests of Italian companies in a given market, so as to be able to best assist them in their activities, and enhance their position in the many contacts with authorities and other local points of contact. This also serves to attempt to preempt the emergence of critical issues.
However, it must be noted that the diplomatic-consular network cannot intervene in disputes between private parties, which require appropriate legal consultants which, if necessary, Embassies and Consulates can provide information on.
7. How can I contact Embassies and Consulates to request assistance for my company? Who should I contact?
To request assistance, information and meetings with the Embassy or Consulate, use this form.
8. In countries where there are both an Embassy and Consulates, when should I contact the Embassy, and when the Consulate?
Consulates carry out their functions in a specific area of the country (“consular district”). Companies that already operate in an area that falls within the consular district, or are interested in investing in that specific area, may contact the relevant Consulate directly. On the other hand, where companies are interested in a country but not a specific area, due to the type of market they operate in or to their size, they may contact the Embassy directly. In addition, the Embassy should be contacted for relations with the central authorities of the country, while the Consulate may be contacted for relations with regional and local authorities. In the event of uncertainty over district jurisdiction, the Embassy should be the first point of contact:it may then redirect companies to specific Consulates.
The list of Embassies and Consulates is available here.
9. If in the country in which my company operates or intends to operate there is also an Italian Trade Agency Office (ICE), what services can I request from the Embassy or Consulate, and which from the ICE Office?
Embassies and Consulates and the ICE Agency offices are closely integrated in terms of functions and, in many cases, logistics (sharing of premises). This entails that companies may receive extensive assistance ranging from orientation activities and, if necessary, institutional support from the Embassy, and more specific services provided by ICE, starting with researching clients and local partners, meetings with local operators and personalized market research. In addition, ICE offices, in collaboration with Embassies and Consulates, are responsible for organizing specific commercial promotion initiatives, including participation in trade fairs (also virtual ones) and attracting buyers to our country.
In all cases, whether the ICE office is located within or outside the Embassy or Consulate, respective officials maintain close coordination so as to be always able to direct and support companies in all aspects of activities abroad. A map of ICE offices around the world is available here.
10. What if there is also an Italian Chamber of Commerce Abroad?
The Italian Chambers of Commerce Abroad are associations of entrepreneurs and professionals, both Italian and local, officially recognized by the Italian State. Therefore, they are private subjects that can offer Italian companies entering the market added value stemming from their deep roots in the territory, as well as from the presence of both Italian and local associate members which entails a first-hand knowledge of the market as well as a close working relationship with the local business world. The more well-connected members the Chambers have, the more they can provide valuable insight into the local reality, and thus be of service for companies. The Chambers carry out many activities aimed at facilitating companies in their commercial activities by, for example, facilitating contacts to conclude business deals, organizing seminars and conventions, monitoring sectorial trends and changes to fiscal and financial regulations as well as company law.
The list of the Italian Chambers of Commerce Abroad is available here.
11. Once the requested assistance has been received, should companies continue to inform the Embassy or Consulate of activities in the country?
It is essential to continue to inform the Embassy or Consulate both of any critical issues and of any positive developments. In fact, this allows the diplomatic offices to follow-up on their support activities with local contacts, and to provide companies with any updates on areas of interest. Consequently, companies should not consider assistance on a specific issue as an end to itself, but as part of a structured relationship that must be upkept over time.
12. In addition to Embassies and Consulates, can I also contact the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Farnesina)?
Yes. It is useful to contact the Farnesina, especially for those companies that are not yet active in specific markets (and therefore do not have an Embassy/Consulate of reference) but are interested in a process of internationalization. In fact, the Farnesina constantly informs and communicates with companies about the opportunities offered by foreign markets, and acts as a high-level platform for putting the institutions of foreign countries in contact with the Italian business world, particularly during visits by foreign government members. It is therefore useful to follow activities and events organized by the Farnesina, such as the “Country Presentations” and the “Business Forums” even before entering the market.
To contact the Farnesina’s competent offices, use the same contact form for Embassies and Consulates, and select the “Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation” in the drop-down menu.
13. What tools does the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (Farnesina) offer companies before the approach to a foreign market?
The Farnesina offers some online platforms that provide Italian companies with useful information on markets and opportunities. In particular, InfoMercatiEsteri carries country profiles with information on the economic and political outlook, as well as on market opportunities (what to sell and where to invest), promotional initiatives, any obstacles to trade, critical points in investments and possible risks, access to credit, and an overview of Italian presence in the area and bilateral relations. Upon free registration, the ExTender platform offers information on international tenders for the supply of goods, services or the realization of works; “early warnings” (previews of tenders not yet published); news on multilateral projects and financing. News (calls for tenders and early warnings) related to over 7000 tenders are published annually on ExTender, with customizable alerts for specific countries or sectors. Moreover, the Farnesina promotes and finances the “Invest your Talent in Italy” program, which allows companies to recruit, for time-limited internships, highly qualified students from strategic markets.
14. Where can I find out about safety and health conditions in the country where I want to travel, invest in or send employees to, and on any advisable precautions?
The Crisis Unit’s tools, accessible through the portals Viaggiare Sicuri (Safe Travels) and Dove Siamo nel Mondo (Where we are in the world), are always available to companies, especially those that operate or intend to operate in countries or areas that present particular risk profiles.
Viaggiare Sicuri carries current general information as well as on the safety, mobility and health related to each country. DoveSiamoNelMondo, which has a channel dedicated to business trips, allows users to report their temporary presence abroad, in order to be contacted quickly in the event of an emergency, and to facilitate the planning of any assistance.
15. Is there a charge for assistance to Italian companies abroad?
All the information, guidance and institutional support services offered by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the diplomatic-consular network to companies are always entirely free of charge. The only types of services for which companies may be charged regard the use of Embassy or Consulate premises for conferences, seminars, events, or for interpreting services for non-institutional activities. Personalized services provided by Italian Trade Agencies and Chambers of Commerce may also incur a fee.