Astana – Italy is the largest trading partner of Kazakhstan. Present in many fields of kazakh economy, from infrastructures to food and agriculture. AGI interviewed Pasquale D’Avino, the newly appointed Ambassador of Italy in Astana. Mr. D’Avino started his diplomatic career in 1982 and he worked at various Italian embassies in USA, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Czech Republic etc. His most recent position was the head of Task Group at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The ambassador shared his impressions and views on such issues as Kazakh-Italian trade and cultural cooperation, visa issue, European Union and Central Asia interaction etc.
- Is it your first visit to Kazakhstan? Have you come here previously? What is your first impression of the country?
I was a chief protocol many years ago working with the Prime Minister Berlusconi and we did a stopover for a few hours in Kazakhstan where Berlusconi met with Nazarbayev. Then I studied about Kazakhstan when I was working in Brussels. Before coming here, I started talking to people. My impression is that it is one of the best countries in Central Asia. People are very peaceful and the government looks wise and committed to peace and international cooperation.
- Italy is the largest trading partner of Kazakhstan. How can Italy-Kazakhstan trade be enhanced? Do you have plans to increase the number of joint enterprises? Is Kazakhstan attractive to Italian investors?
Yes, Italy is the first European trading partner. This is a not question of just numbers. If you look into the data, Italian companies are present in Kazakhstan not just in oil and gas sectors such as ENI but also other areas. We have high-technology plans that we put forward cooperating with the Kazakh authorities. All fields of the economy are covered and we are also present in Kazakhstan in infrastructure (road construction) and agriculture. I want to stress that agriculture is particularly important for both of our countries. Kazakhstan has a very good agriculture and very rich soil. We have a tremendous know-how in agriculture and innovation technologies. In food and agriculture no one can be better than Italy. Cooperation between Italy and Kazakhstan going to be tremendous in the field of agriculture; however, it will take some time for commercial companies. I recommend Italian and Kazakh to form joint ventures and I wish that the Kazakh authorities could offer the highest standards in finances. If you have a good and transparent efficient financial sector then it will be much easier to do business. Certainly, the export of Italian goods and services such as shoes, luxury goods is also important. And the last thing that I want to mention is tourism which has a tremendous opportunity for growth. We issued around 30 thousand visas to Kazakhs who travelled to Italy last year. The number of tourists will continue to grow.
- Kazakh authorities have talked previously about the importance of Schengen visa relaxation issue for Kazakhstan? Do you think it is feasible?
Let’s say we cannot forget the international situation which is quite tense. At the moment, I do not see many chances to have a big major change in visa policy from the European Union. Having said that that I cannot rule out that this dialogue could one day have some progress. The more the Kazakh authorities to work to facilitate business, monitoring and control of our society. In the future there are some chances to establish such regime.
- Kazakhstan is one of the most important partners of the European Union. Astana signed the Enhanced Cooperation Agreement in 2015. Do you think the EU projects strong soft power in the region? How can the EU-Kazakh cooperation in the region improved?
Well, as you know Central Asia is very strategic region for the European Union. Here you have so many players; Russia, China and all the Islamic countries. This is a very important game. All the European members work in the commission how to implement the programs of cooperation between the EU and Kazakhstan. All these programs try to increase quality of administration, doing business climate in Kazakhstan. We believe that Kazakhstan is a special partner in Central Asia. All treaties have a more general political meaning to encourage to go in this direction and not in other direction. We like stability, dialogue and commitment to free market and prosperity.
- Italy has always promoted Kazakh-Italian cultural and educational cooperation. What are your plans for the next 2-3 years in the field?
For us culture and education is a major subject and we have so many universities interested in cooperation with Kazakh universities. We will increase the number of projects in Kazakh-Italian education field. We will increase the number of Italian language classes around the country. We wish to have cooperation with the Kazakh authorities who could for instance provide public places for free for such cooperation. This will foster for Italian-Kazakh cooperation, people-to-people communication. It is really feasible.
We support all forms of art. We have wonderful cooperation with the Kazakh Opera. They are hosting many Italian singers and directors. We have many big Italian names who plan to come to Astana. We will try to improve the cooperation among other kind of arts such as painting. We will try to have an exhibition of young Kazakh-Italian painters later this year.
- You started your diplomatic career in 1982 and the world has drastically changed since then. The Soviet Union collapsed, Russia reemerged with Vladimir Putin, Kazakhstan appeared on the world map. What do you think will be the biggest challenge for Kazakhstan and Central Asian region in the next 10 years?
Of course there are so many challenges. Kazakhstan has a golden opportunity to become a major economy among top 30 developed countries in future. But there is also a chance for Kazakhstan to become a role model for Asia. For us Kazakhstan has a potential to go higher on political and economic level.