AFTER copping a walloping from the global financial crisis, Italy is turning to Australia to help reinvigorate its export markets - in particular its agricultural equipment and component sales.
While their European neighbours and other Northern Hemisphere markets still struggle to recover from last year's economic collapse, the Italians are looking to make the most of longstanding links with Australia and current favourable exchange rates to build and diversify their export base.
Apart from its big multinational names, Italy's vast wealth of smaller equipment manufacturers make it a supermarket for components and specialist equipment used in agriculture and manufacturing.
It is Europe's second biggest industrial powerhouse - home base for a plethora of internationally-known products ranging from Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Maserati cars to Vespa and Ducati motorcycles, Pirelli tyres, DeLonghi whitegoods and domestic appliances, Tornado pumps, Baretta firearms, Iveco and Lancier trucks and heavy farm machinery brands like New Holland, Landini, Lamborghini and Same.
While the Italians are also leading names in apparel, design, household consumer goods and food brands, some their biggest sales to Australia tend to be lesser known pharmaceutical and industrial chemical products and industrial equipment.
Exports to Australia average about $7 billion a year and in the past six months have rebounded more than 20 per cent after being badly deflated by the global downturn in 2009.
"On average Italian equipment and consumer goods imports into Australia have risen three to four per cent since 2000," said Italian Trade Commission trade analyst, Claudio Bosca.
"Agricultural and food equipment is an important part of that figure and we feel there are greater opportunities to build a bigger distribution base here - and even move into new markets in Asia," he said.
Mr Bosca joined last week's Italian presence at the Australian National Field Days at Orange, where the trade commission was promoting Italy's farm machinery credentials, including the upcoming huge EIMA machinery exhibition held in Bologna in the country's north each November.
The balance of trade with Australia is already strongly in Italy's favour, with our hunger for Italian cars, machinery, clothing and footwear outpacing our main exports of leather, wheat, minerals and wool by more than two to one.
Sydney-based Italian trade commissioner, Claudio Pasqualucci, said while big name agricultural companies like the Fiat-owned New Holland were well known, many of Italy's most dynamic farm equipment makers were smaller businesses who specialised in implements or components.
Italian exporters prided themselves in their flexibility to custom make equipment to suit a market or to combine and adapt technology from different manufacturers to develop products as they were required.
However, the long distance from Europe meant many of these specialist manufacturers had restricted direct contact with Australia and had not previously made significant efforts to develop a foothold here.
Australia's solid economic growth, strong agricultural climate and closeness to burgeoning Asia had made it an exciting market opportunity at a time when Italy's traditional markets remained sluggish.
The Australian dollar's strength against the euro also gave Italian exporters plenty of incentive to develop markets and get their products noticed at far more attractive prices than two years ago or more.
He said while Italian exports in the 1960s, '70s and '80s tended to focus on servicing migrants and second generation Italians in Australia, the market was now broadly spread and building on the reputation and their technical ingenuity of products.