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Hailing social reforms in Saudi Arabia, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio says Rome is ready to support the kingdom

ROME: Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio stressed the importance of cementing his country’s historic ties with Saudi Arabia ahead of his visit to the Kingdom on Sunday.

Speaking exclusively to Arab News, he said the two governments were fully aligned and shared common interests and strategic priorities which laid the foundation for a long-term comprehensive relationship.

While in Riyadh, Di Maio will review several aspects of Saudi-Italian relations and ways to strengthen them, in addition to discussing regional and international issues of common concern.

He noted that Italy would hold celebratory events later this year to mark the 90th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations. Italy was one of the first countries to recognize Kingdom status.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman (L) meets with Italian FM Luigi Di Maio in Riyadh. (AFP file photo)

Di Maio said: “Italy was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the early 1930s and 2022 marks a very important anniversary in our long-standing friendship.”

On Monday, he will co-chair the 12th session of the Saudi-Italian Joint Commission with Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan, and will also participate in the Saudi-Italian Investment Forum, where institutions and companies from both countries will meet to develop new partnerships. .

“At the time, Italy and Saudi Arabia decided to start a strategic dialogue, and my visit aims to consolidate our long-standing relationship by exploring new areas of cooperation and partnership. The 12th session of the joint commission that I will chair on Monday with Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan will focus specifically on this objective.

Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan. (AFP)

“The Italian high-tech companies present at the event could contribute to the Kingdom’s objectives of a more diversified economy, particularly in the areas of sustainability and energy transition,” he added.

Saudi-Italian relations have been pushed towards more political, economic and cultural development. They have their roots in solid cooperation, with Italy being one of the main historical trading partners of the Kingdom.

Similar to many countries with long-established Saudi ties, Italy has a common vision aimed at developing and maintaining ties of friendship.

Di Maio praised the Saudi leadership for achieving “significant social developments, especially with regard to the empowerment of women”, adding that his country was “ready to provide all the support the Kingdom needs to continue the implementation implementation of its reforms.

The 35-year-old minister is considered one of the most prominent figures on the Italian political scene.

Last week he set up a parliamentary group called Together for the Future (IpF), a spinoff from the Five Star Movement, the populist party founded by Italian comedian Beppe Grillo and where Di Maio began his political career. The new group will support Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s coalition government.

Di Maio stressed that Italy and Saudi Arabia share “deep historical ties”, and said he was “delighted” to return to the Kingdom after his last visit in January 2021, “when I also had the privilege of visiting the magnificent site of AlUla.”

He noted that Rome’s cooperation with Riyadh had “increased over the years in all areas,” including political, cultural, scientific and technological collaborations, and sectoral partnerships.

Italian FM Luigi Di Maio (right) receives Saudi Prince FM Faisal bin Farhan in Rome in June 2021. (SPA file photo)

“We look forward to further strengthening our cooperation in the areas of infrastructure, new technologies, smart economy, tourism and green transition,” Di Maio added.

In 2021, bilateral trade between the two countries exceeded $8.6 billion, an increase of 32.9% compared to 2020. Italy is the seventh largest supplier of goods to Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom is ranks 21st for goods supplied to Italy. Saudi Arabia supplies around 9% of Italy’s oil imports.

The Observatory of Economic Complexity, the world’s leading data visualization tool for international trade statistics, showed in 2020 Saudi exports of $3.18 billion to Italy, the main products being crude oil from worth $1.7 billion, refined petroleum at $931 million and ethylene at $97.9 million. polymers.

Over the past 25 years, Italian exports to Saudi Arabia have grown at an annualized rate of 3.31%, from $1.67 billion in 1995 to $3.77 billion in 2020.

Oil and gas supply will be on the agenda at official meetings in the Kingdom as Italy, along with Germany, approved the opening of Russian ruble accounts earlier in May for companies can continue to buy Russian oil and gas without violating the sanctions letter. imposed by the EU on Russia.

Di Maio said: “There is always room for improvement. We intend to strengthen our cooperation in the oil and natural gas sectors.

Italy has agreed with its EU partners to cut imports of Russian crude by 2023 – in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine – a move Draghi called a “complete success”.

The Italian Foreign Minister added: “(Saudi Arabia is a) key partner for regional stability in the Middle East and the Gulf for Italy. Therefore, we deeply value our dialogue on key regional issues.

“We strongly believe that the wider Mediterranean is a region of opportunities, where fruitful synergies between peoples and economies can be established. We share this commitment with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and we are ready to work together to achieve these common goals.

As a member of the G20, Saudi Arabia handed over the honorary gavel as a sign of transition from the G20 presidency to Italy, which assumed the G20 presidency in 2021. And as members of the G20 troika , Di Maio stressed the role of the commitment of the two nations to continue to work in the same spirit of cooperation and solidarity for strong, sustainable and inclusive growth and to help “design a coordinated response to global challenges”.

On the issue of cooperation, he said, “My participation these days in the joint commission and the business forum once again proves our willingness to celebrate this anniversary by strengthening our cooperation in traditional and new sectors.

“Much remains to be done, but Italy is ready to provide all the support the Kingdom needs to continue implementing its reforms. In this spirit, I am convinced that the Saudi-Italian investment forum that I will co-chair on June 27 will be a success and will be a trigger to foster new industrial and commercial partnerships.