THE ITALIAN CONNECTION
On a breezy afternoon, the AWANI team arrived at the embassy in Ampang. Located amongst the “Diplomatic Row” of Jalan U-Thant, we were greeted by the Italian ambassador. He is the embodiment of a classic Italian; fashion-centric, warm, global-citizen, and most of all, eccentric.
His Excellency Cristiano Maggipinto reported for duty as the ambassador in September 2017. In that short period of time, he has brokered numerous meetings between Malaysian dignitaries with their Italian counter parts, counterparts and have spoken on various issues ranging from free trade to the ban on oil palm use palm oil used in biofuels.
Italy opposes the decision by the European Union (EU) to phase out the use of palm oil in biofuels by 2021. They join a host of other European countries including the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Spain. When asked why Italy broke ranks with the EU on sustainability and energy, H.E. Maggipinto merely shrugged.
“Italy is as concerned as the rest of Europe on the oil palm palm oil issue and on sustainability” Maggipinto said. stated as matter-of-fact.
“But before we can discuss further on this, allow me to give some context first. The matter is not law yet at the EU-level. It is still being debated and is currently still a proposal. As members of the union, we are entitled to our views and as it is, we are taking the position that we are not agreeable to the phasing out of palm oil in biofuels. Further study needs to be done first, which as a country, we believe that it is still not being studied enough yet” explained Maggipinto.
Indeed Malaysia is taking the position that the imposition of such laws on phasing out palm oil use is bordering on protectionist policies and is a pseudo-trade barrier move by the Europeans.
We want to focus on sustainability, and to boost economic ties between our nations to the best of our capabilities. We want to grow our own SME just like you want to do the same here in this country
When asked on this, the ambassador responded well. “Why should we give so much trouble to Malaysia and Indonesia on this matter when we know this is harming our economy as well?” says Maggipinto. “We want to focus on sustainability, and to boost economic ties between our nations to the best of our capabilities. We want to grow our own Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME) just like you want to do the same here in this country” declared the ambassador.
“I have been in discussion with various parties on this. All parties want to find an amicable solution to this matter. And while we debate on the issue, we do not want to jeopardise our trade relations with Malaysia at all. Italy is the second largest importer of palm oil amongst the EU nations. The majority of our food products contain some form of palm oil. On trade itself, we are the fifth biggest trade partner amongst European nations with Malaysia. And our bilateral trade volume is increasing year on year.
The Malaysia-EU palm oil Consultation Programme will take place in April 2018 with the desire to find the a solution on the matter. And I believe we can find an answer on this matter very soon” continued Maggipinto.
FREE TRADE AGREEMENT
After the collapse of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) in 2017, the EU has been in constant communication with various economic blocs to build and deepen further ties. Malaysia is among the many that is currently in talks with the EU to sign a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) very soon.
“There has been negotiations with your Minister of International Trade & Industry, Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed” announced Maggipinto. “I think an FTA document will undoubtedly help both economies to grow even further. But we have to let the negotiations take place accordingly” he added.
An area that the ambassador is fostering further is on the exposure of Italian culture amongst Malaysians. “We are collaborating with the National Gallery, the Muzium Negara , and other institutions, like the University Kuala Lumpur, to bring more avenues and opportunities for us to showcase Italian culture to Malaysians” informed the ambassador.
To find out more about the various Italian cultural activities that you can join, and to learn more about what the ambassador has to say on palm oil and on the FTA, watch the interview below.