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An Interview with H.E. Vittorio Sandalli Ambassador of Italy to Indonesia

NOW! PEOPLE | 2 May 2018

Indonesia and Italy, two strategic members of major economic unions— the EU and the ASEAN—have strengthened relations in the past year with several meetings between key members of government. NOW! Jakarta spoke to the Ambassador of Italy, H.E. Vittorio Sandalli on the growing relationship between the two countries.

H.E. Vittorio Sandalli  Ambassador of Italy to Indonesia. Photo by Raditya Fadilla/NOW!JAKARTA

The second edition of the high-level dialogue on ASEAN-Italy Economic Relations took place in April. What are some of the discussions that were had at this meeting that you can share with us, especially with regard to the Indonesia’s role within the ASEAN community?
The second edition of the high level dialogue  took place in Singapore,  one year after the first edition held in  Jakarta in May 2017,  organised by two Italian think tanks – the European House Ambrosetti, a major think tank focused on economic matters in Europe -  and Assosciazione Italia-ASEAN, with the support of the Italian Government.  Seven ASEAN countries attended the economic dialogue  in Singapore , represented by  government and CEOs.

The aim of the dialogue consisted of expanding contacts  between Italy and the ASEAN as a whole and specific member states, providing comprehensive information on opportunities in ASEAN and Italy for our business communities.

Italy, being the second manufacturing country in Europe, is in a position to offer the most advanced solutions to Indonesia and other ASEAN countries in terms of innovative technology and scientific achievement.

For example, we are the country known  for producing high speed trains. Also, 50 per cent of pressurised modules  for space stations are Italian. Italy is leading in chemical, robotics, as well as in  renewable energy and is among the leading countries  in the world for geothermal expertise.

The foreign ministers of Indonesia and Italy have met a few times recently. What were some of the key messages from these meetings?
Yes, the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Retno Marsudi,  visited Italy in October 2017 and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy, Angelino Alfano, visited Indonesia in February this year as part of a Southeast Asia visit, starting with Indonesia. The first aspect  emphasised in the meetings was  that Indonesia and Italy, being two vibrant  democracies, share the same values and the same vision of international relations. We are important members of two regional associations, EU and ASEAN. With the aim of expanding our institutional, social and economic cooperation, we consider it  a priority to finalise the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement  between Indonesia and EU.

The negotiations are progressing and we encourage our Indonesian counterpart to accelerate them. In this framework , Italy is ready to transfer technology to Indonesia in many fields, ranging from big infrastructure to maritime security capabilities  - a sector in which Italy is ranked as the first in Europe – for example  in terms of space observation.

Creative economy is another area of cooperation that has been discussed by the two Ministers, in view of the Memorandum of Understanding on which we are working  and of the international Conference on Creative Economy that Indonesia will host in the coming months. The perspectives  of cooperation between Indonesia and Italy are tremendous and we count to establish a multi-sectorial partnership in areas of mutual interest.

Italy and Indonesia have collaborated in the energy and infrastructure fields for a long time now. What are some of the current projects or initiatives?
Italy and Indonesia have shared a long cooperation  on energy issues. Our main oil and gas company, ENI, started operations in Indonesia decades ago and is now engaged in activities of extracting gas and exploration, particularly in fields offshore in East Kalimantan. Another important Italian oil and gas company, Saipem,  is investing heavily in the Riau archipelago.  We also have Italian companies producing  gas turbines and supplying cables for high voltage installations, as well  as participating in construction of dams for hydropower stations. 

A leading Italian company in renewable energy is ready to start the evaluation for possible exploitation of  geo thermal energy in South Sumatra.  Our collaboration on energy and infrastructures will  further benefit from the signing of the MoU with the Indonesian Minister for Energy and Mineral Resources,  on the occasion of the visit to Jakarta of the Italian Minister for Economic Development in 2017,  which provides for consultations on energy efficiency and regulation of the sectors, as well as on specific projects of mutual interest.

Beyond the energy sector, Italian companies are also involved  in projects aimed at providing cables that will help internet connectivity in Papua. Another  field of cooperation concerns  space observation to enhance Indonesia’s capabilities in preventing natural disasters, protecting coasts and countering illegal fishing.

The European Union has proposed a ban on the use of any vegetable oil, including palm oil, in biodiesel production starting in 2021. What is Italy’s stance on the issue?
Actually it is not a ban, the European Parliament proposed  that  biofuels originated by vegetable oils will be gradually excluded from the EU targets for renewable energy. We should also consider that  palm oil imports in the EU have increased recently  by 36 per cent and that tariffs applied by the EU are much lower  in comparison to other markets of destination of palm oil.

Italy is fully aware of the importance of palm oil for Indonesia and that millions of families rely on the palm oil production. We are also aware of the commitment  of Indonesia  to preserve natural resources and we call on the Indonesian Government to maximise efforts towards sustainable production. In the end Indonesia and the EU have  a common target:  the sustainability of palm oil plantations.

One of the topics that was brought up during the recent bilateral meeting was the issue of tolerance and inclusivity. what are some of the ways that Italy can assist Indonesia in this directive?
Indonesia has long been seen as an example of tolerance due to the ability of people of many religions and ethnicities to coexist in harmony. Now Indonesia – like many other countries -- is facing the challenges of radicalisation and terrorism. It is important, in our opinion, to avoid the risk of religious issues being exploited for political interests.

Italy has facilitated inter-religious dialogue since 2009 in a forum launched by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the prominent Italian religious association,  the Sant’Egidio Community, with the participation of relevant Indonesian institutions. On the occasion of Minister Retno Marsudi’s visit to Italy,  the fourth edition of the inter-religious dialogue took place in  Rome.

Italy is experienced in intercultural harmony as we are in the middle of the Mediterranean,  where different cultures, ethnicities and religions have interacted for centuries.  In Southern Italy there have always been villages with a significant percentage of population of different religions, particularly Islam, a reality not linked to the recent increase in immigration.

In addition, even if Rome is the centre of Catholicism, we are a secular country, with religions highly valued in the private dimension and not related to the institutional system.



 This article is originally from paper. Read NOW!Jakarta Magazine May 2018 issue “Building Future Leader”. Available at selected bookstore or SUBSCRIBE here.