Italy reportedly drops out of China Belt and Road initiative that failed to deliver

MILAN: Italy has formally withdrawn from China’s global Belt and Road initiative that seeks to deepen relations with foreign countries through infrastructure investments, Italian media reported on Wednesday (Dec 3).

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni had previously signalled Italy’s intention to withdraw from the agreement, which was up for renewal. The Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that a letter with the formal notice had been delivered to Beijing in recent days. Meloni’s office declined to comment on the report.

Italy became the first G7 country to sign on to the initiative in 2019, when the populist, anti-establishment Five Star Movement party-led government promoted it as a way of increasing trade with China while getting investments in major infrastructure projects.

Neither appeared. In the intervening years, Italy’s trade deficit with China has ballooned from €20 billion to €48 billion. Investments in Italian ports that were trumpeted in newspaper headlines were never achieved.

Meloni, in opposition at the time, was against the deal from the start. Her foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, said this summer that Italy had not “obtained great results” from the pact.

Analysts said Italy had little incentive to continue in the pact, and that China can fall back on the face-saving narrative that Italy dropped out under US pressure.

The initiative involves Chinese companies building transportation, energy and other infrastructure overseas funded by Chinese development bank loans. It has built power plants, roads, railroads and ports around the world and deepened China’s relations with Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Mideast. It is a major part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s push for China to play a larger role in global affairs. More than 150 countries have signed Belt and Road agreements with China.

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