ITALIAN DIPLOMATS in Southeast Asia have been given a directive by their Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, known as Farnesina after its Roman headquarters, to strengthen trade with the region.

“This is a region which is becoming increasingly important for Italy, from a geopolitical and economic standpoint, with its 630 million inhabitants and some of the most dynamic economies in the world, recording an average growth rate of 5%,” Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Angelino Alfano said in a statement last week.

In a video conference with Italian ambassadors assigned to the region, Mr. Alfano told them: “Your meeting should start a reflection on strategy in order to boost ‘Brand Italy’ entirely, with a view to securing the success of our enterprises.”

“The cooperation with ASEAN countries is a clear political policy of our government, which is truly important, not a matter of theory,” he added. “This policy should be pursued also at a European level to enhance regional dialogue and cooperation, in the light of partnership and free trade agreements, for example.”

Mr. Alfano met with Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto R. Yasay, Jr. on Wednesday at the ministry’s headquarters in Rome, known as the Farnesina, to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on establishing the guidelines for bilateral consultations between their respective departments.

“Italy looks at the Philippines as a key partner in Southeast Asia,” Mr. Alfano said during the meeting. “Today’s signing of the Memorandum on the bilateral consultation mechanism between the Foreign Ministries will enable us to consolidate our political cooperation on bilateral and global issues and especially to intensify economic and cultural relations.”

For his part, Mr. Yasay told Mr. Alfano: “We would like to pursue more trade and investment cooperation with Italy. Philippine-Italian trade has been increasing through the years, but it still has not reached its full potential.”

“Our meeting today is a great start for 2017 and Philippine-Italian relations. I hope that this will provide impetus to our multifaceted relationship,” he added.

According to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas data, overseas Filipinos” cash remittances from Italy totaled $313.62 million in 2015. In the 11 months to November 2016, remittances were running at $215.19 million, down 22.9% from their year-earlier pace.

Data from the Department of Trade and Industry showed that Italy ranked 23rd in total trade with the Philippines for 2015.

Trade between Italy and the Philippines totaled $612.70 million, or 0.49%; of the $125.333 billion in the Philippines for the year. Italy was 27th in exports to the Philippines valued at $187.138 million. It ranked 19th in imports at $425.56 million.

Coconut oil is the top product Italy imports from the Philippines, Embassy reports showed, while industrial manufactures are Italy’s largest exports to the Philippines.

Italy and the Philippines will celebrate their 70th year of formal diplomatic relations in July. — Lucia Edna P. de Guzman