THURSDAY, JUNE 2, 2005
HONG KONGS historicalrole as a crucial link tomarkets in China willcontinue to grow asItalian companies access theuntapped potential of themainlands consumer markets,according to Italian financialgroups in Hong Kong.
Relations between Italy andHong Kong have been very strong,and will continue to grow, saidFabio de Rosa, president of theItalian Chamber of Commerceand chief of personnel at BancaIntesa in Central. Hong Kong is afavourite place for Italians toinvest their money.
Exports from Italy to HongKong rose 25 per cent to reachUS$3.8 billion last year, surpassingthe record of US$3.5 billion set 10years earlier.
More than 50 per cent of goodsimported from Italy worthUS$2.8 billion are destined forre-export to the mainland.
Italys imports from HongKong rose 21 per cent to US$3billion last year, surpassing theprevious record of US$2.5 billion.
Mr De Rosa said that wasmostly because goods producedin Guangdong transited throughHong Kong.
Mr De Rosa said: Hong Kongisnt growing as a manufacturingcentre. Its a service country.Trade is less important thanensuring European companies see
this as a place to invest theirmoney.
Consul-General for Hong KongGabriella Menghello said Italy hadhad a presence in the region sinceMarco Polo travelled to China inthe 13th century, and the twocultures shared common values ofwork, family and community.
Although the nations presencein Hong Kong is relatively small,Italy has contributed significantlyto the development of the citythrough its missionaries and,recently, through its businesscommunity.
For us, Hong Kong is still avery important place. It is animportant financial hub, animportant trading partner ofItaly, Ms Menghello said.
Mr De Rosa said Italiancompanies used Hong Kong tolaunch overseas products insouthern China, particularlyGuangdong and the Pearl RiverDelta, and relied on Hong Kongsinvestment in production facilitiesin the mainland and its closepartnership with centres such asShanghai to form distributionnetworks.
Hong Kongs simple fiscal andtax structure, efficient services andbusiness friendly policies wouldcontinue to ensure its place as agateway to China, he said.
Its easy to come to HongKong. Its seen as a very friendlyplace to do business.
Hong Kongs success isbecause it has good infrastructure
and a good bureaucracy. Ivenever seen a bureaucracy soefficient as in Hong Kong, hesaid.
There are more than 120 Italiancompanies in Hong Kong,including a strong financial sectorconsisting of about 10 majorbanks and insurance companies,and engineering firms andconsumer product groups.
Franz Hilburger, managingdirector of Oriental BuyingServices, said the firmsadministrative headquarters hadbeen in Hong Kong since 1994because it had an efficientgovernment and educatedpopulation and it provided goodaccess to the mainland.
The textile company buysproducts for its Italian parentcompany GruppoCoin, whichoperates more than 300department stores.
Ms Menghello said educationwas a burgeoning area in culturalrelations: 182 Hong Kong studentswill take part this year in asummer exchange programme;and a Marco Polo study-exchangeprogramme was launched inspring.
A total of 420 students in HongKong enrolled in Italian languagecourses at university this year, anincrease of 70 students over lastyear.
Professor of Italian LuigiLaudanna said: A lot of studentslike the image of Italy, not only theculture, but the lifestyle.
Italians cherishcitys role asChina gatewayLong-established trade and financial ties with Hong Kong setthe stage for expansion in the mainlands production sector
Reports by Stephanie Harrington
IN ITALY, YOU never ask yourmother whats for dinner itwill make her angry.But Hong Kong people are
eager to query the menus of anincreasing number of Italianrestaurants in the city offering thefamously simple but classiccuisine.
Ten years ago, you couldcount the number of Italianrestaurants in Hong Kong on yourfingers, said Pino Piano, directorof the Gaia Group, which ownsand operates the restaurants Gaia,Va Bene and Isola Bar+Grill.
Now there are dozens anddozens.
Grissinis chef de cuisineVittorio Lucariello said Italianrestaurants have been gettingbetter and better since he movedto Hong Kong two years ago.
The allure of the cuisine lies inits simplicity.
Developed by the peasantry,Italian food uses seasonalingredients from the countrysnine regions to create creamy ortomato-based sauces for pastas,fragrant risottos, hearty soups,pastries and gelati.
The trend of cucina molecolare(molecular cooking),experimentation with productssuch as cooking sugar at a high
temperature to derive a low-fatalternative to olive oil, may be atthe forefront of modern Italiancooking but the great chefs neverforget their origins.
Our food was made because itwas necessary, said PaoloTeverini, one of three master chefsvisiting Grissini restaurant at theGrand Hyatt Hong Kong hotel forits Bella Italia promotion. Youused a small amount of
ingredients with good taste andlow cost. Simple ingredients.
Italys family-oriented cultureof the table, as Chef Teveriniphrased it, is something thatattracts Hong Kong diners.
Lauren Morkel is director ofmarketing for Grappas Bar andItalian Restaurants, which has amonth-long Italian festivalpromotion.
She said many people came tothe companys Italian-Americaneateries for a relaxed family meal.
Mr Piano imports all of hisingredients from Italy, and thereare several shops here that sellfood and beverages importedfrom the country.
Alessio Conti, an award-winning pastry chef visitingGrissini, has begun scouring Italyfor the perfect oranges and nutsfor panettone, an ItalianChristmas cake, countering atrend in Italy towards cheap mass-produced desserts.
Another visiting chef, Italianice-cream master Palmiro Bruschi,has sold world-inspired gelato athis shops in Tuscany tocomplement traditionaltechniques and flavours. He saidhe may create a mango or lycheegelato in an acknowledgement ofHong Kongs love for Italian food.
Big appetite for culture of the table
Chef Vittorio Lucariello says Italianfood here keeps improving.
Italy ranks second to themainland for imports of clothing,accessories and footwear to HongKong. A spokeswoman for Milan-based Giorgio Armani said topItalian fashion retailers such asArmani had enjoyed dramaticgrowth at their Hong Kong outletsin the past two years, withmainland clients having asignificant impact on sales.
Benetton Group, which has itsregional headquarters in HongKong, will open 40 stores in Chinathis year, and plans to have 200outlets on the mainland by 2008.
Meanwhile the Swank Shop,which has imported Italian labelsfor 50 years, will open a store laterthis month for Italian designerRoberto Cavalli at the IFC Mall.
But David Hong Kin-hay,
managing director of Swank, saidthat Italian clothing took off inHong Kong only after Armanilaunched his ready-to-wearcollections in the early 1980s.
It took some effort to educateand convince local people to wearItalian or European clothes.
Once they started, they sawthey could really express theirown character, he said.
FROM HAUTE COUTURE topret-a-porter, Hong Kongwill get a rare look at a half-century of Italian fashion,including items that would bedifficult to see in Italy.
With exhibits valued at morethan $8 million, the 50 Years ofItalian Fashion exhibition beginstomorrow and continues till the15th at IFC Mall. On display willbe 74 dresses, menswear,accessories and original sketchesfrom 42 top Italian designers.
These are some of the fashiondesigners who have created theconcept of Italian fashion, saidCecilia Pavanello, generalmanager of the Italian Chamber ofCommerce, which is organisingthe show as part of a series ofcultural events. Its a rareopportunity to see these dresses.Even in Italy, you would see themonly on television.
Exhibits range from an eveningdress by Emilio Schuberth, onceworn by actress Gina Lollobrigida,and a Brioni suit made for JohnWayne to the contemporarydesigns of Versace, a favouritebrand of singer and actressJennifer Lopez.
The iconic leather Guccihandbag with a bamboo handle crafted by company founderGuccio Gucci in 1947 will also beon display.
These are exquisite creations,said Alessia Tota, a curator for theexhibition. We spent a lot of timelooking for garments made bythese kinds of designers.
To complement the exhibition,the Italian Trade Commission willhold four spring and summerfashion shows, tomorrow and onSaturday, featuring Italian brandssold at the mall. Italian fashion isan easy sell in Hong Kong.
The market is sophisticated,very mature, said Bulgari HongKong managing director AngelinaBleach. The population iscosmopolitan. Its easy for high-end luxury businesses.
A showcase for 50 years of fashion
A MONTH-LONG SERIES of events will belaunched tomorrow at IFC Mall to mark theNational Day of Italy. The events herald the Year ofItaly in China celebrations scheduled for next year.
Italy 2005: Quality and Lifestyle will showcasethe five pillars of Italian culture art, film, fashion,design and music until July 7.
Italy is normally associated with food andfashion, but it is more than that. It is a very ancientculture, said Fabio de Rosa, president of theItalian Chamber of Commerce, the eventorganiser.
Highlights include the exhibitions 50 Years ofItalian Fashion (June 3 to 15) and Italian Light(June 3 to 15), showcasing classic and modernlamp designs. Also on show are the works of high-profile artists Roberto Cipollone, known as Ciro(June 3 to 12), and Gianluca Miniaci (June 7 to 22).
Italian films will be screened from June