Italian trade rep: Taiwan's future is bright

Courtesy of Italian Economic, Trade and Cultural Promotion Office

By Trista di Genova
Originally published Sunday, January 18, 2009 in The China Post

The China Post (downing espresso): What was your prior experience before you took office?

Leopoldo Sposato: Before arriving in the wonderful island of Taiwan, I was the Director of the Italian Trade Commission in Houston for three years, from 2005 to 2008. In 1981 I started working for ICE (Italian Institute for Foreign Trade), a public agency which nowadays has more than 110 branches throughout the world promoting Italian “ability and intelligence” on the global market, creating agreements and trades with all the countries of the world. During my career, I’ve had other very significant experiences in foreign countries, such as Mumbai (India) and Tripoli (Libya).

Unfortunately, it’s the first time I have come to Taiwan, even if I’ve traveled a lot in Asia: Japan many times, Philippines, Indonesia, Honk Kong, and China, including Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing, and Canton.

However I’ve come across many Taiwanese companies and representatives while working at ICE headquarters in Rome, in many different sectors: Food Industry, Chemistry, Petrol equipment, and recently also ICT and Biotechnology.

CP: When did you take office?

Leopoldo: I officially took office in Taipei on 8/8/08, a very lucky day, also corresponding with the opening of the Beijing Olympics. Here I found a very comforting and positive atmosphere and climate, even though the weather wasn’t the best at that time!

CP: What were your first impressions of Taiwan; and favorite foods, places to eat here?

Leopoldo: A first impression upon my arrival was the realization of certainly being in Asia — a Chinese-speaking country — but Taiwan was not the China I used to know, and the other Asian countries I used to travel to. For this reason, I have to work hard to take advantage of this occasion to know this reality better and deeper.

I have also discovered with great pleasure an amazing quality of cuisine, not only local but from many countries around the world. I enjoy eating and trying new things, but I found out that I have a strong attraction to dumplings, especially the handmade ones that are very tasty, delicate, and with many distinct flavors.

After my arrival, I also realized that you can find good food everywhere and many varieties, not only in luxurious restaurants. I also found very good Italian cuisine, especially in the restaurants where the cooks are from Italy, or have been for long time in Italy.

CP: What did you bring in your suitcase, as gifts from your country?

Leopoldo: In my suitcase I brought two things: a Neapolitan moka machine to make coffee, and a typical Italian attitude with great desire to make new experiences and new friends. Fortunately, I discovered the people here are very hospitable and willing to help, so all that is left is a nice cup of coffee to share with!

CP: What would you bring from Taiwan?

Leopoldo: From Taiwan, I will bring with me the desire to do always more, and a strong belief in the future that has allowed this country to reach exceptional results, making it a giant in production and research in many high technology sectors, in spite of its physical dimension and unavailability of raw materials and energy.

CP: What are the main projects your office is currently undertaking in trade development?

Leopoldo: Our main activity involves the promotion of consumer goods, as well as industrial goods. For example, we organize presentations of Italian food products with tastings; we participate in major exhibitions, especially in the mechanical sector, which take place in Taiwan; and we also organize special missions for operators and journalists to visit companies and exhibitions in Italy.

Last October, we had an educational seminar with extra virgin olive oil tasting, and in November a presentation with twelve of the best Italian wine producers. They both were very successful and appreciated by operators and public. This year, we’re planning to repeat the experience. Next March, we will participate to the exhibition TIMTOS, one of the most important mechanical exhibitions that take place in Asia, and for that occasion we will present with a seminar the exhibition EMO 2009 of Milan.

CP: What are some special events your office offers every year?

Leopoldo: Every year as ICE, we realize and a global promotional program planned by our headquarters in Rome. In Taiwan, there will be seminars with food and wine-tasting, visits of Taiwanese businessmen and journalists to Italy, and Italian businessmen and journalists visiting Taiwan. To participate or for more information, write:

CP: What are your hobbies in your free time, and what are your recommended places to visit in Taiwan?

Leopoldo: In my free time, I take walks, visit museums and art shows and travel as much as possible. I especially enjoy cooking traditional Italian dishes from my homeland (the Sannio in southern Italy), and I also try to learn the local cuisine.

I haven’t yet had the chance to visit much of the island, but the southern and central parts, which I have visited, are rich in history and natural beauty. I want to able to discover by the end of my experience here the most typical and interesting places that this amazing island is hiding.

CP: What are the hottest products between Taiwan and your country?

Leopoldo: In exchange trade between Italy and Taiwan, Taiwan turns up the winner, with a greater surplus (US$2.400 million in 2007), because of the strong technological and electronic component, as well as large production of industrial and mechanical consumer goods for Italian companies. We balance from our side with luxury consumer goods, wine and food products and industrial machinery and equipment (US$1.560 million in 2007).

Professionally, it will be interesting to see how this global financial crisis will be dealt with, from the Taiwan perspective. I also want to stress my great admiration for this community that has made this small island a worldwide economic and financial power (US$470 bil. in total foreign trade, despite all kinds of difficulties Taiwan has gone through in the past fifty years.