Lorenzo Vianello is the President of the Cámara de Comercio Italiana en Mexico, A.C. and General Manager of EMMEAH, SA DE CV, the sole distributor of Calzedonia and Intimissimi goods.

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The interview

InvestorVisa: In your opinion, what has characterized your activity as President of the Chamber in a constantly changing reality like the Mexican one?

Vianello: Mexico went through a very peculiar period in the second half of 2018 and all of 2019. The first year in office of the newly elected government brought the country’s economy to a prolonged stalemate. On the other hand, the economy of the United States of America is growing, therefore favouring companies exporting to North America. I do not want to oversimplify these trends, but I have to say that we, as the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Mexico, found ourselves dealing with some conflicting developments among our associates. The same holds for trade and investment relations between Italy and Mexico in general. Our main concern is to try to help sectors that suffered in this period of crisis while continuing to promote investments in the most prosperous industries.

The Chamber stands out for the extreme diversification of its activities, which go far beyond the classic services offered by your counterparts in other countries. The many cultural and networking events you sponsor and the courses you offer are your most distinguishing feature. Do you think that the results produced have benefited you in carrying out your mission?

Undoubtedly. For more than a decade, CCIM has been renowned for its networking events. Every year we need to improve and reinvent ourselves, trying to stand out among similar events organized by other countries’ representatives, or by Mexican companies and institutions, by offering something not found anywhere else. This year all our events promoting Italian food and wine were a huge success. It was a series of events dedicated to consumers and media and influencers scattered all over Mexico. The closing meeting was its natural climax: a two-day fair in the heart of Mexico City with almost three thousand attendees. On this occasion, we also hosted this year’s Mexican Pizza Championship final, its fifth one. Moreover, our usual Golf Tournament, reserved to Italian and Mexican entrepreneurs, which reached its tenth edition, proved itself one of the best and most coveted amateur tournaments in Mexico. As 180 players attended, I can say that it was its best edition so far. Finally, the Italy Mexico Prize reached its eleventh edition, and this year there were two very important changes underlining the event’s prestige. A beautiful historic building in the centre of Mexico City was chosen to host the event, and a chef, whose restaurant has been holding a two Michelin-star valuation for twenty years, coming directly from Italy prepared the dinner. All these activities, jointly with some other minor events, are of fundamental importance to encourage better relations between our members, between Italian and local entrepreneurs, and to improve the standing of Italy and Italian products abroad every day.

The Chamber also reached several partnership agreements with its Italian counterparts. Has this led to noteworthy benefits in connecting the economies of the two countries, for example, by promoting Mexican investments in Italy?

Unfortunately, Chambers of Commerce in Italy have been stripped of their ability to stimulate Italian companies’ internationalization efforts for a couple of years. The excellent relationships we had with our counterparts faded away, as they did for any other of the seventy Italian Chambers of Commerce Abroad. In this sense, we had to reinvent ourselves and start working with trade associations and private companies, specialized in internationalization activities. We hope that this law will soon change and that the Chambers of Commerce scattered throughout the various Italian regions will once again be in charge of managing internationalisation programs. This would help us be much more efficient and effective.

For what you have been able to observe in your capacity of President of the Chamber, what characterizes the economic and political relations between Italy and Mexico?

Our relation is certainly thriving. Italy is Mexico’s second-largest trading partner in the European Union, just behind Germany. Mirroring this, Mexico is Italy’s second-largest market in the entire American continent, following the United States but preceding both Canada and Brazil. Not including these three countries, Italian exports to Mexico are higher than the sum of Italian exports to the rest of the continent. As far as investments are concerned, Italy’s involvement in Mexico is increasing. Between January and September 2019, Italian investments in Mexico added up to more than 1,100 million dollars. Following this development, Italy secured its place as the fifth-largest foreign investor in Mexico. It is not my place to talk about political and cultural relationships, but I can say that our collaboration in both instances is extraordinary and growing stronger each day. Joint efforts in science and research are equally noteworthy.

Pending the coming into force of the trade agreement with the European Union, what kind of future do you foresee for the economic integration between Mexico and Italy?

I foresee an increasingly florid and strong relationship. New and fruitful mutual business opportunities will surely open up in the agri-food sector. It is worth remembering that Mexico is one of the world’s largest exporter to the United States and that the recent ratification of the new North American Treaty will compound the beneficial effects of the Mexico – European Union Treaty, further stimulating trade between Mexico, the United States, and Canada. This arrangement will bring more and more foreign and Italian investments to Mexico.

Mexico City is now a global city, thanks to both its population and to its role in the Mexican economy. Can this development and the city’s potential status as a gateway to both North and Latin America benefit bilateral business with Italy? 

I am sure that anyone approaching Mexico City for the first time is going to be pleasantly surprised. Maybe it is because expectations surrounding this megalopolis are seldom positive, but the extreme quality of its historical, cultural and gastronomic offering will leave visitors amazed. The only drawback is the difficulty of physically reaching the city from the rest of the continent. Unfortunately, the new government decided to abandon the project for the new airport, which was very far along in its completion. This will certainly not help Mexico City standing among global cities. Anyway, I think that Italian companies will be able to continue to take advantage, at least for improving their brand, of the huge number of tourists and business travellers with which the city is swarming.

Investments between the two countries are currently not very developed. Are there areas in which to invest or very distinct opportunities that could lead large and small Mexican entrepreneurs to become more interested in Italian companies?

As mentioned earlier, Italy is firmly the fifth country for direct investments in Mexico, behind the United States, Spain, Canada, and Germany. Food and automotive are the more attractive sectors. A traditionally strong sector is also that of footwear. There are significant opportunities in the medical and biotechnology sector, and the renewed North American treaty will inevitably add even more. There are also margins to invest in the aerospace industry and in infrastructure.

Italy offers a special visa to non-EU entrepreneurs willing to invest at least 500,000 (in a start-up) or one million euros (in a company) in the country. Is this, in your opinion, something capable of attracting a larger number of Mexicans, perhaps even be able to persuade them to transfer to Italy?

It can be a truly useful measure. Effective communication is crucial, as is sufficient transparency in establishing who the mediators are and what they do. The United States promotes similar measures rather effectively, allowing applying for residency after investing 500,000 or one million dollars.

The same type of visa is available to foreign patrons who donate towards the preservation of the Italian cultural heritage. Mexico, unlike other Latin American countries, did not experience strong Italian immigration: nevertheless, is it possible to gain the attention of Mexican entrepreneurs and convince them to donate?

This measure must also be properly communicated. Furthermore, I think that we need to increase the awareness of any agreement between Italy and Mexico concerning tax incentives that allow Mexican patrons to deduct at least part of these donations. Despite this, there are several wealthy Mexicans interested in artistic and cultural issues, so I find that this initiative if properly conveyed, can lead to good results.

The subsidized tax regime (100,000 euros per year) for those who transfer their tax residence to Italy is a rule designed to obtain the attention of the global business community. The “Growth Decree” also introduced subsidized taxation on income produced in Italy, which would be taxed at a 30% rate, or, in some regions, at a 10% one. Could the richest Mexican businessmen benefit from this initiative and therefore look favourably at the possibility of investing in Italy?

I find this measure much more effective and stimulating for small to medium-sized entrepreneurs. Generally, big businessmen allocate their foreign investments according to the logic of a multinational company, which is often dictated more by labour cost, competitiveness, and logistical location, rather than by fiscal issues (especially if we are talking about small amounts of money).