Opportunities abound for Italian entrepreneurs expanding into Africa

12th October 2018 By: Shannon de Ryhove - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Polity & Multimedia

The Italian-South African Chamber of Trade and Industries says Italian companies are becoming increasingly positive about the opportunities offered by South Africa, which is being acknowledged as a hub from which to expand and invest into surrounding African countries, says Italian-South African Chamber of Trade and Industries secretary general Mariagrazia Biancospino.

“There are several opportunities in developing infrastructure in South Africa and especially in the Southern African Development Community region, with Italian companies specifically interested in how commodities can circulate inland,” she explains.

Opportunities abound at eye-level infrastructure and especially in joint ventures that are able to produce products in South Africa and export these into the surrounding countries. This opens opportunities for job creation, which is in line with local government’s requirement to reduce unemployment.

The chamber notes that the major products coming into South Africa from Italy are largely machinery and mechanical appliances. Pharmaceuticals and medical products also continue to make inroads, as South Africa closely emulates how Italy implements its public healthcare systems.

Biancospino says Italian and South African entrepreneurs work well together, as the two countries have a similar business culture. Being in the same time zone is also an advantage, as communication between the two countries is not delayed. New technology and industrial automation processes also allow for remote working environments where, for example, an engineer based in Italy can wirelessly control a factory in South Africa in real time. “The time zone is, therefore, a practical means for the two countries to facilitate business processes,” says Biancospino.

Other products being traded between the two countries include raw minerals, sugar and wine. “There are almost certainly more products with potential for rapid market entry into the South African and Italian markets and the chamber believes that neither country is fully aware of the vast capabilities and specialisations inherent in the two nations,” notes Italian-South African Chamber of Trade and Industries analyst Dylan Stewart.

Biancospino notes that an emerging trend for Italian companies is to form joint ventures with South African firms to expand into the rest of the continent. “The last economy to develop is that of Southern Africa, with some 250-million people living in this area. This is a largely untapped market, but it requires investment in rail and road infrastructure. We believe that Southern Africa is the future, but it needs infrastructure among the member countries to fully appreciate the opportunities that exist.”

Other emerging trends are those that focus on water treatment, energy savings and environment-friendly solutions. South Africa’s water crisis has revealed an opportunity for new processes in treating sea and river water, while technological advancements offer opportunities in water treatment systems for housing and industry.

Stewart, meanwhile, believes that more effort needs to be made to develop awareness of the excellent products and services the two countries have to offer, which is how the chamber can be of great value.

The chamber offers several key services that assist Italian entrepreneurs in finding South African business partners, including market research that focuses on specific sectors of interest, import and export statistics, information on customs duties, competition analysis and conclusive evaluations.

It also offers South African entrepreneurs the opportunity to attend exhibitions being hosted in Italy to improve the opportunities for South Africa to partner with European companies in the machinery tools, tiles, sanitary ware and furniture, white goods, medical equipment, agriculture, automotive, packaging, food and chemicals sectors, since Italy is still a key partner for South Africa in these industries.

The chamber’s matchmaking initiative, made possible by its extensive database, organises business-to-business meetings and facilitates follow-up activities for these meetings in monitoring the development of the commercial contacts that began during the initial meeting or trade mission. It will then offer continued support and assistance until the partnership has been successfully secured.

The chamber’s role is to keep communicating the opportunities to members, whether through roadshows or conferences. One such example is the South Africa- Italy Indaba 2018 taking place in October and hosted by European House Ambrosetti, which assists Italian companies and regional and local government with their globalisation strategies.

“We open the communication channels for Italian companies on the business opportunities here, and also to promote Italian companies to South African partners,” says Biancospino.

The Gauteng provincial government, meanwhile, expressed its pleasure at partnering with Ambrosetti to host the third South Africa-Italy Indaba.

“This event is different from the previous two summits held in the province in that it will bring together 250 CEOs from companies in Southern Africa and several European countries, including Italy.

“It will be a unique opportunity for leaders in business, government and academia to network and share ideas on the themes identified in the programme,” says Gauteng MEC for Roads and Transport Ismail Vadi.

It will also create a platform for the consideration of further investment opportunities in South Africa and Italy, he concludes.