On Sunday, 19 February, 2017, the activities of the Palestinian-Italian Joint Business Forum were launched at the Mövenpick Hotel in Ramallah. The conference was held in the presence of Her Excellency Ms. Abeer Odeh, the Minister of National Economy, Mr. Hashim Al Shawa, the Chairman and Director General of Bank of Palestine, Mr. Samir Zraiq, the President of the Palestinian Businessmen Association, Mr. Fabio Sokolowicz, the Consul General of Italy, Mr. Marco Gay, the President of the General Confederation of Italian Industry – Young Entrepreneurs (Giovani Imprenditori Confindustria), and a group of businessmen from the Palestinian private sector, with the participation of a number of Italian businessmen, representatives of entrepreneurial companies in Italy.
The events of the conference were organized under the sponsorship of Bank of Palestine, whereby the signing of the agreement on the establishment of the Palestinian-Italian Joint Business Forum took place between the Palestinian Businessmen Association and the General Confederation of Italian Industry – Young Entrepreneurs. The agreement was signed by Mr. Samir Zraiq on behalf of Palestine, and by Mr. Marco Gay on behalf of Italy.
Mr. Zraiq welcomed the conference guests and expressed the importance of developing economic relations between Italy and Palestine. He pointed out that commercial exchange between both countries is still limited, as he elaborated that Palestinian imports from Italy reach approximately $70 million, while Palestinian exports to Italy account for less than two million dollars. Zraiq stated that the Palestinian Businessmen Association is conducting tremendous efforts to promote this relationship and increase the size of commercial exchange and joint investments. He mentioned the cooperation agreement between Palestine and Italy, which aims, primarily, to develop a joint business environment and strengthen direct economic relations between businesspersons from both countries.
Zraiq demonstrated that the second forum will be held in Italy in the very near future, and he expressed his anticipation to witness the expansion of exchange and joint investment between Palestine and Italy.
From his side, Mr. Hashim Al Shawa, the Chairman and Director General of Bank of Palestine, confirmed the importance of establishing a joint Palestinian-Italian business forum. He stated that the idea began in 2015 following the exceptional participation of Palestine in Expo Milan 2015, whereby the Association of Italian Businessmen was invited to bring a delegation of businesspersons from Italy to visit Palestine and become familiar with investment prospects, create an entity to organize this relationship, establish its work mechanism, end eventually achieve a sustainable economic, investment, and commercial partnership between Palestine and Italy. Al Shawa stated that a group of Italian business entrepreneurs accepted the invitation, and their presence was celebrated today during the inauguration of the first Palestinian-Italian business forum with the participation of 20 Italian companies from various sectors. He added that this visit will be a turning point and an ice-breaker for Italian business entrepreneurs, as it will create an entity that will organize this relationship and unite it, increase the size of commercial exchange, allow Palestine to benefit from Italian expertise, and introduce Italy to the reality of industry, agriculture and the issue of water in Palestine. Al Shawa also pointed out that the import-export gap between both countries is enormous, and he expressed his hope in this partnership to establish joint economic projects that would contribute to decreasing unemployment, engage the workforce and promote the Palestinian economy.
Mr. Fabio Gay, the President of the General Confederation of Italian Industry – Young Entrepreneurs, expressed his enthusiasm to sign an agreement with the Palestinian Businessmen Association, which aims to encourage economic events, as well as organize and activate business and investment opportunities for entrepreneurs in society. Gay guaranteed his complete support to establish a free market that will become a means for competition between the various industries, and foster principles for developing business for entrepreneurs and projects on both sides. He also stressed the importance of encouraging the culture of entrepreneurship among youth, considering they are the leaders of economic growth and development. Gay also talked about modernization and creating work opportunities for youth and the unemployed in order to decrease the rate of unemployment, stressing the importance of increasing the level of knowledge with other countries and benefiting from entrepreneurial expertise and external experiences in order to strengthen relations and the business environment.
Ms. Abeer Odeh, the Minister of National Economy, also expressed her enthusiasm in the launch of this Palestinian-Italian business forum, assuring that she has been working hand-in-hand with all partners during the past few years to establish the Palestinian-Italian business board in order to strengthen commercial exchange between the two countries. She added that today's forum aims to establish this business board in the very near future, while pointing out that a visit to Italy will be organized for next year. Odeh expressed her happiness about the visit of Italian businesspersons to Palestine to build partnerships, invest and establish economic relations between both countries. She assured these businesspersons will find investment and commercial opportunities with Palestine, and expressed hope that this forum will achieve its goals through the creation of a better business environment, attract investors to Palestine to develop Palestinian industries, and increase Palestinian exports to markets abroad.
Mr. Fabio Sokolowicz, the Consul General of Italy, recited a letter from the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, which stressed the importance of partnership and cooperation between Italy and Palestine on all levels through the establishment of a joint Palestinian-Italian forum considering it a cornerstone for real economic partnership between both countries. The Consul General pointed out that this forum will open new horizons for businesspersons from both sides and will support entrepreneurial endeavors, joint projects, information exchange and opportunities for both the Italian and Palestinian societies.
Sokolowicz expressed his complete trust in the forum and assured that it will open opportunities for economic relations. He pointed out that exports to Palestine during 2016 increased at a rate of 37%, which was beyond expectations. Sokolowicz thanked all the stakeholders who contributed to the successful launching of the forum, especially the Ministry of National Economy, the Italian Consulate, the Palestinian Businessmen Association, the General Confederation of Italian Industry – Young Entrepreneurs, and Bank of Palestine.
It is important to mention that Bank of Palestine sponsored this conference as part of its belief in the importance of building networks of economic relations between Palestinian and Italian businesspersons, benefit from experiences, increase commercial exchange, develop entrepreneurial ideas that would benefit the Palestinian economy through establishing joint projects, contribute to employment and develop Palestinian industries. The conference featured a number of side meetings between Palestinian and Italian businesspersons working in the same economic sectors to benefit from experiences on both sides. It also featured presentations covering the investment environment, industrial experiences and the course of Palestinian entrepreneurial companies.