Italy is the first in the G7 to join China's Belt and Road Initiative. But in the small port of Vado Ligure, Chinese investment is nothing new. There is a busy back and forth of workers and dusty trucks in Vado Ligure, a small coastal town of 8,000 people in the northwest of Italy.
Traditionally an industrial town, which has recently witnessed a downturn in the local economy, Vado has been put on the international map as a herald of Chinese business interests in Italy.
This week, Italy's government will take part in a Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) summit in Beijing — just one month after joining the BRI and signing several deals on trade and infrastructure with China, the first G7 country to do so.
But as the mayor of Vado Ligure, Monica Giuliano, tells DW, her town "got started with the famous Silk Road that everyone is talking about already a few years ago."
In 2008, a project to build and manage Italy’s first semi-automated port was awarded to Netherlands-based APM Terminals, part of the Danish conglomerate Maersk. In 2016, APM Terminals transferred 40% of shares in the port to Cosco Shipping Port and 9.9% to Qingdao Port International — both Chinese companies and "two partners with whom we already have successful business relationships," says Paolo Cornetto, APM Terminals general manager for Vado Ligure.
The Gateway Terminal is expected to be fully functional by the end of this year, and the joint venture, which includes the Chinese, will manage it and the neighboring Reefer Terminal for 50 years. The Reefer Terminal, Cornetto says, is the most important port hub for fruit in the Mediterranean — with huge quantities of bananas, pineapples and kiwis arriving to Italy from Central and Latin America and Western Africa. APM Terminals plans to maintain and further develop the fruit trade in the future.
In terms of employment, "between the two terminals, the port in Vado Ligure will be able to handle more than 1 million containers per year," Cornetto tells DW. "We also expect to employ 300 people when the terminal is completed in 2020, and up to 400 when we reach full capacity."