The Italian government has decided to scrap the Italian Trade Commission, ICE, and to transfer its staff in Rome to the Economic Development Ministry and its international activities to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. ICE has been a significant partner of the Italian footwear association, Anci, in promoting Italian shoes abroad and its cancellation has caused some concern among shoemakers.
ICE employs 1,200 people, half of whom are located in Italy, and has 115 offices in 88 countries. The government said that all of ICE's staff will now be on the payroll of the industry ministry but employees working abroad will be coordinated by Italy's embassies. The number of offices in Italy will be slashed to two from 14.
The Foreign Office said that elements of the reorganization of ICE's foreign operations will be studied case by case. In some capital cities, the foreign office could group diplomatic, trade and possibly tourism promotion activities in a single building, said the Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, in an interview with the daily newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.
ICE's budget will be transferred to a fund for the promotion of foreign trade, and the industry ministry will lose its exclusive role in outlining the country's trade strategy. The ministry will now share the task with the foreign ministry. The economy ministry, the employers association Confindustria, the banking association ABI and the chambers of commerce will also have a say in trade promotion.
Confindustria expressed satisfaction about the reform. It has been pushing for the creation of “one-stop” offices where companies can obtain assistance to expand abroad.
ICE had been criticized in the past for the fact that the bulk of its budget was used to run it and that only about €30 million per year ended up being spent for promotion activities. Frattini expects that the reform will provide an additional €20 million for trade promotion.
Anci claims to have always had an excellent working relationship with ICE, which collaborated to organize about 20 initiatives a year including trade shows, trade promotion, and the incoming of foreign buyers and journalists to events held in Italy and abroad. For example, at the last Micam trade show in Milan in March, ICE organized the trips of more than 100 buyers from 19 countries.
Anci agrees with Confindustria that a reform was needed but the association expressed concern that embassies may not lend the same attention to the needs of small and medium-sized companies, which make up the bulk of the Italian footwear industry, as ICE did. The association hopes that the transition will be done smoothly and that ICE's skills and budget will not be lost. It noted that the change follows 18 months of difficulty in obtaining support for trade promotion from the government due to a lack of funds stemming from spending cuts.