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Doing Business in China


Doing Business in China


Head of the Economic and Commercial Office

Alessandra PALUMBO

Tel.0086 21 65965900 ext. 114. 

Competences of Economic and Commercial Office

The Economic and Commercial Office of the Consulate General offers support to the Italian economic, financial and commercial interests in the Consular area (Shanghai Municipality, the provincial governments of Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang), in close cooperation with the Economic and Commercial Office of the Embassy in Beijing.

The Office develops the economic and commercial relations between Italy and China focusing on the five key priority areas identified by the Italy-China Intergovernmental Committee, in which Italy has extensive know-how and China a substantial demand, namely: sustainable urbanization, green technologies, welfare and health services, modern agro-food industry, and the aerospace industry. The Office also promotes the flow of Italian investments in China and the attraction of Chinese investments to Italy.

To achieve such objectives, the Economic and Commercial Office maintains contacts with Chinese and international institutions and organizations, both public and private, which operate in the fields of economy, trade, research and development; participates in trade shows, conferences, seminars and promotional events; ensures the coordination with ICE/Italian Trade Agency (responsible for the promotion of Italian products abroad, the organization and participation in trade shows, assistance and information to Italian companies), and with the Italian Chamber of Commerce in China (which offers general assistance to its members). After having evaluated the circumstances of the case, the Economic and Commercial Office can also intervene in commercial disputes between Italian operators and Chinese counterparts by reporting the incident to the local authorities.

Bilateral Economic Relations

Italy and China are instrumental trading partners, with an annual trade of about 35 billion euros. Vis-a-vis China, Italy is suffering a significant trade deficit, growing in structural terms in the past 15 years. Rebalancing this asymmetry is an objective shared by the two countries.

Italian exports to China are particularly driven by machinery, equipment, vehicles, clothing, pharmaceuticals and agro-food.

In June 2014 in Beijing, the Prime Minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi, and the Prime Minister of China, Li Keqiang, adopted a three-year Action Plan in the economic, commercial and financial fields. The governments of Italy and China have an agenda focusing on the key priorities of their economic systems. Green technologies, agro-food, sustainable urbanization, health services and the aerospace industry are fields in which the two countries can work together, aware of the perfect complementarity between the Italian technological and industrial offer and the Chinese demand caused by the extraordinary development of China.

As for investments, the stocks of Italian FDI in China exceed 12 billion euros. In terms of attraction of Chinese investments, especially financial, Italy ranks first among the Eurozone countries in the period 2014-2015.

The Italy-China Intergovernmental Committee – main instrument of the bilateral Strategic Partnership – is the steering committee of the bilateral dialogue. In addition to this, within the framework of the Joint Economic and Commercial Committee, representatives of the two countries discuss issues such as market access, IPR protection and the strengthening of trade and mutual investments.

The two countries have also created the Italy-China Business Forum (opened in Beijing by the two Prime Ministers in June 2014). Italian and Chinese entrepreneurs have therefore a permanent dedicated forum working in parallel with the intergovernmental dialogue, facilitating the exchange of information and know-how, industrial and investment proposals.

Italian presence in Shanghai

In the Consular area there are over 1,000 Italian companies, mainly in Shanghai and Jiangsu, but with a certain presence also in Zhejiang and to a less extent in Anhui.


Economic operators can address their inquiries about legal and financial advice, market research, incorporation, general assistance and other consultancy services to ICE/Italian Trade Agency ( and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in China (

In Eastern China there are several law firms and consulting companies with Italian professionals (click here to download the list).

In Shanghai there are representative offices and/or operating branches of the main Italian Banks.

Chinese Investment in Italy

Over the past two years, Chinese investments in Italy have increased significantly. Only in 2013, China had invested about 2 billion/EUR in Italy and our country had invested about 20 billion/EUR in China.

Bilateral relations between Italy and China grew stronger after the visit of the Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in China (June 2014) and of Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang to Italy (October 2014), of the Italian Deputy Minister for Economic Development, Carlo Calenda (March 2015 ) for the bilateral economic commission and of the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Paolo Gentiloni (April 2015) in China for the Bilateral Governmental Committee and for the 70th Years commemoration of the end of WWII (September 2015).

The establishment of bilateral business forums, meeting point of the main Italian and Chinese companies, has helped to improve the economic relations and the perspectives for Chinese investment to Italy. During the first business forum (June 2014) 41 agreements were signed (for 1 billion/EUR), and at the second business forum 14 agreements were carried out (for 8.5 billion/EUR). It is now being scheduled the third edition to be held in China.

In 2014, Italy has become the second destination for Chinese investment in Europe and the fifth worldwide. Some of the most important cases have been: 2.1 billion/EUR investment in Cassa Depositi e Prestiti by State Grid; 400 million/EUR for Ansaldo Energia by Shanghai Electric; 7,4 billion/EUR for Pirelli by Chem China.

The list of Chinese investments in Italy is very long and extremely diversified. For example, in 2012 the Chinese invested in Ferretti Group (luxury yachts), De Tomaso Automobili SpA (cars), Fiorucci (processed food) and Miss Sixty (fashion). A couple of years earlier, China had acquired the fashion for men brand Cerruti, the Desmo leather products, Benelli motorcycles and several small and medium enterprises. Lately, however, China has set its sights on much larger companies, and it has acquired 2% stake in Telecom, Fiat-Chrysler, Eni, Enel, and a small slice of Prysmian, the former Pirelli Cavi. Also interest has risen over real estate and vineyards.

Preferential policies made to encourage Chinese investors

There are several policies to encourage investment in Italy, especially in the field of innovation based start-ups and green economy.

There is also the opportunity of applying for a visa for elective residence for those who invest in real estate and are intended to settle in our country and are able to support themselves without working (i.e. those who have large incomes as pensions, annuities, real estates, or have stable business activity, or other sources of income other than employment).

Actually the main reason to invest in Italy is that it is a high technological country, the second world manufacturer and the second European exporter of mechanics / machinery to China. Secondly, it is the country of lifestyle and fashion. Milan hosts one of the four Fashion Weeks (the others are Paris, London, New York) and Italy is the second exporter of fashion to China.

Expo Milano 2015 a deserves a special mention, because of its undoubted positive effects on economic bilateral relations between Italy and China, and the Italian economy itself. Expo Milan attracted 21,5 million visitors, more than the last European Expo, held in Hannover in 2000 with 19 million visitors. The Chinese data report that 1,5 million Chinese visited Italy in 2015. The Italian Embassies and Consulates in China issued over 500,000 visas, 138,000 just in Shanghai.

Challenge to attract Chinese people to invest in Italy?

The biggest challenge is that the numbers do not correctly represent the Italian reality. First of all, in 2015 the Italian economy is kicking again with GDP growing by +0.8%, and the industrial production rising by +1% on an annual basis.

Second, from the financial point of view, the international rating of Italy reflects mainly its public debt and not its private savings, which are very high. Whereas in the US or other country the families are incline to make debts in order to be satisfied consumers, in Italy the citizens first of all want to buy a house and then save money.

On the R&D for example, the expenditure is 1,26% of GDP but it does not consider the in-house R&D centers many companies have.

Finally, the world crisis gave a push towards efficiency and innovation of the Italian companies and towards their internationalization. So today Italian companies are an example of lean management.

Which investment is more welcome in Italy?

Definitely the most welcome investments are those that focus on widening the market for Italian products as well as keeping the production in Italy. As an example, we believe the partnership between Ansaldo Energia and Shanghai Electric is a model of cooperation, should both parties always continue to promote it with the best will.

Chinese investors should consider the strengths of Italy, such as technology (e.g. leader in the field of robotics and automation), handicraft (e.g. in the field of fashion, the luxury brands as well as the other Made in Italy brands are the product of evident craft skills), food safety (Italy is a leader in food processing and packaging of safe, non GMO, products).

Doing Business in Italy

If you are interested to do business in Italy, please refer to the following websites:

The Treasury Department of the Ministry of Economy and Finance

Statistics about Italian economy by the Bank of Italy

Italia Startup Visa