Vincenzo de Luca, the Ambassador of Italy, was in Kathmandu to present his credentials to President Bidhya Devi Bhandari on October 22.

During his first visit to the country, de Luca talked with Sharada Adhikari about his views on Nepal-Italy bilateral relationship while sharing plans to strengthen the relationship and take it further, as well as his impression of the "vibrant city" that is Kathmandu

Could you share your impression of Nepal?

It was fantastic. It was the first time for me. I have seen the richness of heritage, but also the very vibrant city Kathmandu, full of young people. It is very lively and lovely place - rich in history, and heritage, and there are many temples in the city centres. I also visited Swoyambhunath Temple, and it was really an extraordinary experience.

I will be back soon and several times. I met very nice people here - very kind, and very open.

How do you view the bilateral relationship between Nepal and Italy - especially the people-to-people ties, economic, cultural, and other ties?

Italy and Nepal are very distant countries when it comes to geography, but they have remained very close along the years thanks to the people-to-people contacts and connections.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we had (here in Nepal) 10,000 to 12,000 Italian tourists because Italy loves this country, its beauty, landscapes, heritage, and everything. I like your cuisine, it's is very good - I like daal, mutton, lamb, fantastic bread, rice, vegetables. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the influx of tourists stopped for more than one year, but with the improvement of the situation here in Nepal and in Italy, we hope we can resume the exchange of tourists, the presence of Italian tourists here. We also hope to have tourists from Nepal to Italy.

Do you foresee Italian tourists coming to Nepal anytime soon?

We hope so. It depends on the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is difficult to predict - once we feel that this is over, we have further effects.

But the situation is very good now, in Italy and in Nepal. We hope we can resume the travels soon.

Could you elaborate on the plans for promotion of bilateral ties between Nepal and Italy?

I have a very important event today - the presentation of my credentials to (the Right Honourable) President Bidhya Devi Bhandari. It is the official recognition of my role as Italian Ambassador to Nepal. I am very happy to have this event today. Also, it is a new starting point of bilateral partnership in various fields. We have also made new avenues of cooperation between Italy and Nepal. We would like to enhance the economic partnership. We are two countries with many small and medium-sized enterprises and as Italian government, Italian Embassy, and Italian Consular Honorary here in Kathmandu, we would like to promote more matchmaking between Nepali SMEs and Italian SMEs.

We could also provide facilitation in credit line and trading for buying high level machinery in Italy because it is important for Nepal to have a sharing of technology, especially in textile and food industry. They are also two important pillars of Italian economy, and two main sectors for Nepal too. It is also one of my targets to give opportunities, and this is why we have our delegation here. Not only our Consul General in Kolkata, India Gianluca Rubagotti, or First Counsellor for Political and Cultural Affairs Marcella Zaccagnino, but also our Italian Trade Commissioner for India Alessandro Liberatori, who have been in charge also to facilitate, and promote further events for economic partnership between Italy and Nepal.

Photo: Naresh Shrestha / THT
Photo: Naresh Shrestha / THT

Will we see the partnership happening anytime soon?

The timeframe will be next month.

So, we will try to have a follow-up today. We will also be meeting with the Chamber of Commerce here. We will have a meeting with the representative of the government soon after the presentation of my credentials.

And my Consul General in Kolkata will remain here for some days to follow up on some of the proposals we will present to the government, especially in three main areas - economic partnership, cultural heritage, and civil protection.

How important is economic diplomacy, especially for a developing country like Nepal?

The economic diplomacy, I would say is 'the' diplomacy, at least for a country like Italy where exports represent 31 per cent of the GDP - that is important for growth, employment, innovation, and research.

When you have more economic and trade relations, there are also better political relations between countries.

My personal profile is always dedicated to economic diplomacy. Before coming to India and Nepal, I was Director General for Economic Promotion and was in-charge of Expo Milan 2015 where there was an important pavilion of Nepal. I remember we collected more than two million Euros that year to help Nepal after the earthquake ... from the visitors at the expo. We also had an important contribution from our government. It was really impressive - the solidarity we received from the visitors to Nepal in that occasion. Thousands and thousands of visitors gave some Euros to help the Nepali population.

This is very important because this means how profound are the connections, dealings, contacts between our two people. Our diplomacy is more and more focussed on promoting economic partnership all over the world. Nepal is an important country for us in the region. Before COVID-19, we exported (goods worth) more than 40 million Euros but I think there is still a potential to do more in terms of export, and in terms of some import from Nepal. We have a positive balance here in Nepal because our tourists come here, spend and there is a contribution also to the development of tourist sector here in Nepal. So, economic partnership would be one of the pillars of the relations between Italy and Nepal. And we want to evolve more and more small and medium sized enterprises in this framework.

In the context that the global economy has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, how do you view the role of economic diplomacy in the post COVID-19 world?

There will be some changes because during COVID-19, for the first time we used a lot of digital modalities to hold economic events, promote matchmaking between Italian companies and foreign companies, and partners. I think this is an opportunity we have to develop also after COVID-19. Of course, the new normal will be complementary between digital activities with events and missions and visits in presence. Because it is also very important to have personal contact in the business community.

It is important to finalise contract to work together, to have joint investment, to have partnership, to have collaboration, the personal relationship is fundamental, but we have to continue to use digital modality. Thus digitalisation will be one of the pillars - for example, in Europe for the recovery plan after COVID-19. Digitalisation now is horizontal dimension all over the world.

So, Nepal will have to address this challenge of becoming more and more digital because this creates more opportunities for business, for collaboration in several fields, not only in economic field. Also in relation between cultural institutions from Italy to Nepal, we will be facilitating through video contact, video meeting, digital modality.

Adopting digital modality in a country like Nepal is not easy as there is a digital divide. What do you have to say about this?

There is a digital divide not only in Nepal, but all over the world. We have to address this problem of digital divide.

It was also a commitment of G20 that we (Italy) chaired this year.

Digital divide is one of the challenges we discussed, and showed the commitment of G22 work to address this issue. You can imagine a continent like Africa divided in terms of digitalisation - not all Africa, but some parts. Even in Italy we have some digital divide between some parts of the country and others. So, this is an issue that we have to address with a collective commitment to give access to digital network and digital modalities to all people, especially the young. We have also seen that during COVID-19 there was closure of some schools and universities in Italy, also in India and here in Nepal. Many schools had to be organised with computers and Wi-Fi and these devices are not always available. So, we have to facilitate in this regard.

Are there any plans for collaboration between Nepal and Italy in other arenas?

For collaboration, we seek more contacts and initiatives for civil protection.

Civil protection was help from Italy here during earthquake, but we can also explore opportunities to work for prevention and management of disaster. This will be one of our proposals to work on. Then cultural exchange - our proposal is to finalise a cultural protocol between the two governments - to facilitate more exchange between cultural institutions, students in Italy, here, cultural tourism, and heritage.

Italy was one of the EU nations responding to Nepal's call for assistance when it was hit hard by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. How do you view Nepal's response to the pandemic?

I remember we organised, with Italian cooperation, a special flight to Nepal to deliver ventilators. That was a very important help because there was a problem of oxygen in India and Nepal. And we organised both in India and Nepal. I think we can make further collaboration for COVID-19. I see the situation is much better in Nepal. I have seen the numbers low.

We have to avoid further waves all over the world. We have to always be very cautious about maintaining social distance, using masks, all these measures. The most important thing is the vaccination campaign - I have seen here in Nepal there is a sensible increase in the number of vaccinations.

The government was able to organise vaccination campaign to receive vaccine because Nepal does not produce vaccine. Also in Italy there was some difficulty in having access to vaccine, now Italy has one of the highest number of vaccinated people in the world - 82 per cent of the population with double vaccination.

What lessons does Nepal need to learn from Italy in dealing with COVID-19 pandemic?

The exchange of experience is an important tool all over the world. We have to learn from the lessons of other countries and practices in other countries, not only our own experiences.

This is important for all the countries. We are interested in exchanging these experiences with Nepal in Asia and Indo-Pacific all over the world. In our G20 presidency, we emphasised the importance of international collaboration for addressing the pandemic - not only COVID-19 but also prevention of further pandemic.

These show the importance of having universal access to health.

This will be one of the principles of the international community. In the past it was not like that, it could also be addressed with private channels.

But universal access to health is the fundamental need for the population all over the world because the world is interconnected. You cannot isolate one country from the other. Pandemic means addressing these issues all over the world simultaneously. Otherwise, it will not be effective even in one country. So, universal access to health, interaction between health and environment is very important.

Climate change and pandemic and health are part of the same policy - that is oriented towards more sustainable development in the world.

Does Italy have any programmes to assist/collaborate with Nepal in this regard?

We can discuss with the government and have exchange of experiences in addressing the pandemic and health policies. We are available.

We do not have immediate programmes for the time being but we will discuss with the government.

How do you look forward to your tenure in Nepal?

I will work a lot in implementing these ambitious agenda. But we have a very important asset here. It is our Honorary Consul General of Italy Pratima Rana Pande. I am honoured and happy today to deliver the honour of Cavaliere dell'Ordine della Stella d'Italia (the Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy) recognised by the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella.

A version of this article appears in the print on October 23, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.