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Italy: Market Profile

Picture: Italy factsheet
Picture: Italy factsheet

1. Overview

Italy’s economy, the eighth largest in the world, is fully diversified, and distinctively dominated by small and medium-sized firms (SMEs), which comprise 99% of Italian businesses. Tourism is an important source of external revenue, as are exports of pharmaceutical products, furniture, industrial machinery and machine tools, electrical appliances, automobiles and auto parts, food and wine, and textiles/fashion. Italy is an original member of the 19-nation Eurozone. Germany, France, the United States, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom are Italy's most important investment partners, with China gaining ground. Italy’s relatively affluent domestic market, access to the European Common Market, proximity to emerging economies in North Africa and the Middle East, and assorted centres of excellence in scientific and information technology research remain attractive to many investors.

Source: Fitch Solutions

2. Major Economic/Political Events and Upcoming Elections

March 2018
The Five Star Movement led by Luigi Di Maio won the most votes in the general election, with the centre-left coalition, led by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, placed third.

June 2018
A coalition government led by the Five Star Movement and the League agreed. Giuseppe Conte was appointed Prime Minister.

Sources: BBC country profile – Timeline, Fitch Solutions

3. Major Economic Indicators

Graph: Italy real GDP and inflation
Date last reviewed: November 19, 2018
Graph: Italy real GDP and inflation
Date last reviewed: November 19, 2018
Graph: Italy GDP by sector (2017)
Date last reviewed: November 19, 2018
Graph: Italy GDP by sector (2017)
Date last reviewed: November 19, 2018
Graph: Italy unemployment rate
Date last reviewed: August 21, 2018
Graph: Italy unemployment rate
Date last reviewed: August 21, 2018
Graph: Italy current account balance
Date last reviewed: November 19, 2018
Graph: Italy current account balance
Date last reviewed: November 19, 2018

e = estimate, f = forecast
Sources: International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Fitch Solutions

4. External Trade

4.1 Merchandise Trade

Graph: Italy merchandise trade
Graph: Italy merchandise trade

Source: WTO
Date last reviewed: November 19, 2018

Graph: Italy major export commodities (2017)
Graph: Italy major export commodities (2017)
Graph: Italy major export markets (2017)
Graph: Italy major export markets (2017)
Graph: Italy major import commodities (2017)
Graph: Italy major import commodities (2017)
Graph: Italy major import markets (2017)
Graph: Italy major import markets (2017)

Sources: Trade Map, Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: November 19, 2018

4.2 Trade in Services

Graph: Italy trade in services
Graph: Italy trade in services

e = estimate
Source: WTO
Date last reviewed: November 19, 2018

5. Trade Policies

  • Italy is a member of the European Union (EU) which has a common set of tariffs and customs levied on various imports and exports. As such, the trade policy is largely identical to that of the wider regional bloc. The EU updated its trade policy (and, by extension, its import tariffs, customs, duties, and procedures) in 2017.

  • The EU is party to some 50 free trade agreements (FTAs) and, consequently, access to other markets of the countries concerned is currently mediated through those agreements. The EU’s new scheme on generalised system of preferences (GSP) entered into effect on January 1, 2014. Under the scheme, tariff preferences have been removed for imports into the EU from countries where per-capita income has exceeded USD4,000 for four years in a row. Regarding Hong Kong, the territory has been fully excluded from the EU’s GSP scheme since May 1, 1998.

  • A number of mainland China-origin products are subject to EU’s anti-dumping duties, including bicycles, bicycle parts, ceramic tiles, ceramic tableware and kitchenware, fasteners, ironing boards and solar glass, which are of interest to Hong Kong exporters. As at end-December 2017, the EU did not apply any anti-dumping measures on imports originated from Hong Kong.

  • To combat the spread of the Asian longhorn beetle, the EU introduced in July 1999 emergency controls on wooden packaging material originating in China. Wood covered by the measures must be stripped of its bark and free of insect bore holes greater than 3mm across, or have been kiln-dried to below 20% moisture content.

  • For health reasons, the EU has adopted a directive on the control of the use of nickel in objects intended to be in contact with the skin, such as watches and jewellery. The EU also adopted a directive to ban the use of some phthalates in certain PVC toys and childcare articles, on a permanent basis, which came into effect from January 16, 2007. In addition, the EU has adopted a directive to prohibit the trading of clothing, footwear and other textile and leather articles which contain azo-dyes, from which aromatic amines may be derived.

  • The EU has adopted a number of directives for environmental protection, which may have an impact on the sales of a wide range of consumer goods and consumer electronics.

  • Another important law for foreign companies to grapple with, concerns The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE). In brief, the recast WEEE directive subjects member states to higher collection/recycling targets (a 45% collection rate as of 2016 and 65% from 2019) and a wider scope of measure covering, essentially, all electric and electronic equipment, while establishing producer responsibility as a means of encouraging greener product designs.

  • REACH, an EU Regulation which stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals, entered into force in June 2007. It requires EU manufacturers and importers of chemical substances (whether on their own, in preparation or in certain articles) to gather comprehensive information on the properties of their substances produced or imported in volumes of 1 tonne or more per year, and to register such substances prior to manufacturing in or import into the EU.

  • Nine types of goods imported into the EU are subject to licensing. These goods are (broadly): textiles; various agricultural products; iron and steel products; ozone-depleting substances; rough diamonds; waste shipment; harvested timber; endangered species; and drug precursors. No quotas are imposed on textiles and clothing exports, as well as non-textile products exports from Hong Kong and the mainland China at present.

Sources: WTO - Trade Policy Review, Fitch Solutions

6. Trade Agreement

6.1 Multinational Trade Agreements


  1. EU: Italy is a member of the EU that comprises 28 member states, and it follows EU's common external trade policy and measures. All EU member states adopt common external trade policy and measures. Meanwhile, 19 EU members, including Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain, have adopted the euro as their legal tender.

  2. European Economic Area (EEA)-European Free Trade Association (EFTA) (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland): While it enhances trade flows between these countries, only Switzerland is a fairly major trading partner. The EEA unites the EU member states and the three EFTA states (Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) into an Internal Market governed by the same basic rules. These rules aim to enable goods, services, capital, and persons to move freely about the EEA in an open and competitive environment, a concept referred to as the four freedoms.

  3. EU-Turkey: The customs union with the EU provides tariff-free access to the European market for Turkey, benefitting both exporters and importers.

Provisionally Active

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada: CETA has been ratified by Canada and the European Parliament, but not by all the EU states (Italy has not ratified it). This means that it is only provisionally in force. Once fully in force, CETA is expected to strengthen trade ties between the two regions, having come into effect in 2016. Some 98% of trade between Canada and the EU will be duty-free under CETA. The agreement is expected to boost trade between partners by more than 20%. CETA will improve trade in goods and services between the two countries, while, at the same time, boosting foreign direct investment (FDI). CETA also opens up government procurement. Canadian companies will be able to bid on opportunities at all levels of the EU government procurement market and vice-versa. CETA means that Canadian provinces, territories and municipalities are opening their procurement to foreign entities for the first time, albeit with some limitations regarding energy utilities and public transport.

Ratification Pending

  1. EU-Japan Trade Agreement: In July 2018, the EU and Japan signed a trade deal that promises to eliminate 99% of tariffs that cost businesses in the EU and Japan nearly EUR1 billion, annually. According to the European Commission (EC), the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) will create a trade zone covering 600 million people and nearly a third of global GDP. The result of four years of negotiation, the EPA was finalised in late 2017 and is expected to come into force by the end of the current mandate of the EC in 2019. The total trade volume of goods and services between the EU and Japan is EUR86 billion. The key parts of the agreement will cut duties on a wide range of agricultural products and it seeks to open up services markets, in particular financial services, e-commerce, telecommunications and transport. As of August 2018, the agreement is awaiting ratification by the European Parliament and the Japanese Diet, following which it could enter into force in 2019.

  2. SADC-EPA (Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Angola, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Seychelles, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe): An agreement between parties was reached in 2016 and is awaiting ratification, with 13 of the 35 needed states having ratified the agreement as of April 2018.

  3. Central America-EU Association Agreement (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, and Dominican Republic): An agreement between the parties was reached in 2012 and is awaiting ratification (29 of the 34 parties have ratified the agreement as of April 2018).

Under Negotiation

EU-United States (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership): Expected to increase trade and services, but unlikely to pass under a Trump administration in the United States.

Sources: WTO Regional Trade Agreements database, Fitch Solutions

7. Investment Policy

7.1 Foreign Direct Investment

Graph: Italy FDI stock
Graph: Italy FDI stock
Graph: Italy FDI flow
Graph: Italy FDI flow

Source: UNCTAD
Date last reviewed: November 19, 2018

7.2 Foreign Direct Investment Policy

  1. Italy is bound by EU laws on FDI. Italy has an investment promotion agency to facilitate foreign investment. The Italian Trade Agency (ITA) is administered by the Ministry of Economic Development.

  2. Invitalia, a company wholly owned by the Ministry of Economy and Finance, was created as the central point of reference for businesses wishing to establish themselves in Italy.

  3. Italy’s main business association (Confindustria) aims to retain existing companies in Italy.

  4. Exceptions to foreign participation include access to government subsidies for the film industry (limited to EU member states); capital requirements for banks domiciled in non-EU member countries; and restrictions on non-EU-based airlines operating domestic routes. Italy also has investment restrictions in the shipping sector.

  5. To drive economic growth, the Italian government has put in place comprehensive reforms, such as new labour legislation, new financial tools for real estate and dedicated business courts to resolve disputes involving foreign investors. Meanwhile, fiscal incentives, including a 25% tax credit for private investments in R&D (50% for projects with universities or research centres) and a 15% tax credit for investment in machinery and capital goods are made widely available to promote investment into industries, such as electro-mechanical, tourism, agri-food processing, fashion, life sciences and chemicals.

  6. The Italian constitution permits expropriation of private property for public purposes, defined as essential services or measures indispensable for the national economy. In such instances, prompt, adequate, and effective compensation must be paid to the property holders.

  7. EU and Italian antitrust laws provide Italian authorities with the right to review mergers and acquisitions on grounds of market dominance. In addition, the Italian government may block mergers and acquisitions involving foreign firms under the ‘Golden Power’ law if the domestic firm involved is determined to be essential to the national economy. The Golden Power law allows the Government of Italy to block foreign acquisition of companies operating in strategic sectors (identified as defence/national security, energy, transportation, and telecommunications). The Golden Power authority always applies in cases in which the potential purchaser is a non-company and is extended to EU companies if the target of the acquisition is involved in defence/national security activities.

  8. Although many former monopoly operators have been partially or fully privatised, the state retains a controlling interest, either directly or through the state-controlled sovereign wealth fund Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP).

  9. Italy has a business registration website, available in Italian and English, administered through the Union of Italian Chambers of Commerce. The online business registration process is clear and complete. Foreign companies may use the online process. Before registering a company online, applicants must obtain a certified e-mail address and digital signature, a process that may take up to five days. A notary is required to certify the documentation. The precise steps required for the registration process depend on the type of business being registered.

  10. The minimum capital requirement also varies by type of business. Generally, companies must obtain a value-added tax (VAT) account number (partita IVA) from the Italian Revenue Agency, register with the social security agency Istituto Nazionale della Previdenza Sociale (INPS), verify adequate capital and insurance coverage with the Italian workers’ compensation agency Istituto Nazionale per L’Assicurazione contro gli Infortuni sul Lavoro (INAIL), and notify the regional office of the Ministry of Labour.

Sources: WTO - Trade Policy Review, ITA, U.S. Department of Commerce

7.3 Free Trade Zones and Investment Incentives

Free Trade Zone/Incentive ProgrammeMain Incentives Available
The Italian government operates two free trade zones: the Free Port of Trieste (northeast of Italy) and the Free Port of Venice.

Both these free zones are Control Type I, which means goods placed within the perimeter fence are automatically under the free zone regime.
- These zones offer exemptions from VAT for non-EU goods in transit, deferred VAT payment on merchandise imported into the EU, non-discriminatory right of entry for ships and cargos and no customs intervention.

- In free trade zones, exporters are able to defer duties and taxes for 180 days from the time that the goods leave the free-trade zone to enter another EU country, transform goods free of any customs restraints, and obtain exemption from any duties on products coming from a third country.

- The free-trade zone law also allows a company, of any nationality, to employ workers of the same nationality under that country's labour laws and social security.
Other areas- Italy also has numerous general warehouses that are located throughout port areas and cities.

- There are no limitations as to the type or origin of merchandise that can be stored in free trade zones, bonded or customs warehouses.

- The time limit for such storage is five years.

- Merchandise that deteriorates while in storage can be destroyed without the payment of a duty.
Other investment incentives- Incentives include grants, low-interest loans, deductions and tax credits.

- Some incentive programs have a cost cap, which may prevent otherwise eligible companies from receiving the incentive benefits once the cap is reached.

- The government applies cost caps on a non-discriminatory basis, typically based on the order in which applications were filed.

- Italy provides an incentive for investments by SMEs in new machinery and capital equipment (‘New Sabatini Law’), available to eligible companies regardless of nationality.

- Sector-specific investment incentives are also available in targeted sectors.

Source: Fitch Solutions

8. Taxation – 2018


9. Foreign Worker Requirements

9.1 Working Permit

Non-EU member citizens require a work permit in order to work within the country; EU member citizens do not require a work permit, but their employer must inform the job office about their being hired. Citizens of the EEA (with EU member states, Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein) and Switzerland do not require a visa to enter, reside and work in the country. No work permit is needed by foreigners from outside the EU if they have a permanent residence or family reunion permit, have been granted asylum, study in Italy or have blue or green cards.

9.2 Obtaining Foreign Worker Permits

Employers must first apply for a permit to hire foreign workers. A permit is granted once no suitable candidate can be found in Italy or in other EU member states. The vacant position must be reported to the local district Labour Office and cannot be changed at a later stage to fit the profile of a potential employee. The candidate must then apply for a work permit. The government issues the permit for maximum of two years, which can be repeatedly prolonged, but always for maximum of two years and may be renewed as many times as needed. The permit process takes an average of one month.

9.3 Green Card

The Green Card system only applies to citizens from the following nations: Australia, Montenegro, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, the United States, Serbia, and Ukraine. The Green Card simplifies entry to the job market for foreigners who have qualifications for which Italy has a job opening in register of jobs suitable for green cards. The permit is for long-term residence for employment purposes.

9.4 Blue Card

Intended for the stay associated with the performance of a highly qualified employment. A foreigner holding a blue card may reside in Italy and work in the job for which the blue card was issued, or change that job under the conditions defined. High qualification means a duly completed university education or higher professional education which has lasted for at least three years. The blue card is issued with the term of validity three months longer than the term for which the employment contract has been concluded, however for the maximum period of two years. The blue card can be extended. One of the conditions for issuing the blue card is a wage criterion – the employment contract must contain gross monthly or yearly wage at least at the rate of 1.5 multiple of the gross average annual wage.

9.5 Short-Term Work Visa

These can be granted by the embassy upon an application for a maximum period of 90 days, which can be used within 180 days. The visa must be for the purpose of employment and the application must be submitted, beside general requirements, with work permit, employment contract, and proof of securing accommodation.

Sources: Government websites, Fitch Solutions

10. Risks

10.1 Sovereign Credit Ratings

Rating (Outlook)Rating Date
Baa3 (Stable)19/10/2018
S&P GlobalBBB (Negative)
Fitch Ratings
BBB (Negative)31/08/2018

Sources: Moody's, Standard & Poor's, Fitch Ratings

10.2 Competitiveness and Efficiency Indicators

World Ranking
Ease of Doing Business Index
Ease of Paying Taxes Index
Logistics Performance Index
Corruption Perception Index
IMD World Competitiveness35/61

Sources: World Bank, IMD, Transparency International

10.3 Fitch Solutions Risk Indices

World Ranking
Economic Risk Index Rank46/202
Short-Term Economic Risk Score
Long-Term Economic Risk Score64.6
Political Risk Index Rank36/202
Short-Term Political Risk Score
Long-Term Political Risk Score80.5
Operational Risk Index Rank41/201
Operational Risk Score62.4

Source: Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: November 19, 2018

10.4 Fitch Solutions Risk Summary

The Italian economy will continue to register a very modest rate of growth over the longer term, weighed down by weak credit availability, a subdued external environment, and waning global competitiveness.

The government remains open to foreign investments in shares of Italian companies and continues to make information available online to prospective investors. Italy’s economy has emerged from its longest recession in recent memory and the current government is making progress on improving Italy’s investment climate.

Source: Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: October 24, 2018

10.5 Fitch Solutions Political and Economic Risk Indices

Graph: Italy short term political risk index
Graph: Italy short term political risk index
Graph: Italy long term political risk index
Graph: Italy long term political risk index
Graph: Italy short term economic risk index
Graph: Italy short term economic risk index
Graph: Italy long term economic risk index
Graph: Italy long term economic risk index

100 = Lowest risk; 0 = Highest risk
Source: Fitch Solutions Economic and Political Risk Indices
Date last reviewed: November 19, 2018

10.6 Fitch Solutions Operational Risk Index

Operational RiskLabour Market RiskTrade and Investment RiskLogistics RiskCrime and Security Risk
Italy Score64.1
Developed States Average73.063.370.976.281.8
Developed States Position (out of 27)2522
Developed States Average73.063.370.976.281.8
Developed States Position (out of 27)25
Global Average49.649.749.949.149.8
Global Position (out of 201)41

100 = Lowest risk; 0 = Highest risk
Source: Fitch Solutions Operational Risk Index

Graph: Italy vs global and regional averages
Graph: Italy vs global and regional averages
Operational Risk IndexLabour Market Risk Index
Trade and Investment Risk IndexLogistics Risk IndexCrime and Security Risk Index
New Zealand77.573.075.772.089.4
United States76.979.075.282.870.5
Isle of Man63.862.061.849.282.3
Developed Markets Averages73.063.3
Global Markets Averages49.649.7

100 = Lowest risk; 0 = highest risk
Source: Fitch Solutions Operational Risk Index
Date last reviewed: November 19, 2018

11. Hong Kong Connection

11.1 Hong Kong’s Trade with Italy

Graph: Major export commodities to Italy (2017)
Graph: Major export commodities to Italy (2017)
Graph: Major import commodities from Italy (2017)
Graph: Major import commodities from Italy (2017)

Note: Graph shows the main Hong Kong exports to/import from Italy (by consignment)
Date last reviewed: November 19, 2018

Graph: Merchandise exports to Italy
Graph: Merchandise exports to Italy
Graph: Merchandise imports from Italy
Graph: Merchandise imports from Italy

Note: Graph shows Hong Kong exports to/import from Italy (by consignment)
Exchange Rate HK$/US$, average
7.76 (2013)
7.75 (2014)
7.75 (2015)
7.76 (2016)
7.79 (2017)
Sources: Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department, Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: November 19, 2018

Growth rate (%)
Number of Italian residents visiting Hong Kong104,933
Number of Italians residing in Hong Kong6520.02

Sources: Hong Kong Tourism Board, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs - Population Division

Growth rate (%)
Number of European residents visiting Hong Kong1,929,824
Number of developed state citizens residing in Hong Kong65,6801.5

Sources: Hong Kong Tourism Board, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs - Population Division, Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: November 19, 2018

11.2 Commercial Presence in Hong Kong

Growth rate (%)
Number of Italian Companies in Hong Kong160
- Regional headquarters39
- Regional offices54-15.6
- Local offices67

Source: Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department

11.3 Treaties and agreements between Hong Kong and Italy

  • Hong Kong and Italy share a Comprehensive Double Taxation Agreement that has been effective from FY2016/2017.

  • Italy has a Bilateral Investment Treaty with Hong Kong that entered into force on February 2, 1998, and a Bilateral Investment Treaty with mainland China that entered into force on August 28, 1987.

  • Italy has a Double Taxation Agreement with mainland China.

Source: Fitch Solutions

11.4 Chamber of Commerce (or Related Organisations) in Hong Kong

Italian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong and Macao
Address: 19/F, 168 Queen's Road Central, Central, Hong Kong
Email: icc@icc.org.hk
Tel: (852) 2521 8837

Source: Italian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong and Macao

Consulate General of Italy in Hong Kong
Address: Suite 3201, 32/F, Central Plaza, 18 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Email: consolato.hongkong@esteri.it
Tel: (852) 2522 0033/4/5

Source: Consulate General of Italy in Hong Kong

11.5 Visa Requirements for Hong Kong Residents

Hong Kong residents are entitled to a visa-free entry to Schengen countries lasting no more than 90 days in any six-month period from the date of first entry in the territory of the member states.

Source: Consulate General of Italy in Hong Kong

Content provided by Picture: Fitch Solutions – BMI Research
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