Trade and Project Financing in Italy

A Hot Tip about Banking and Finance in Italy

Posted on: 7 Jan 2010

How Do I Get Paid (Methods of Payment)

American firms most frequently provide the Italian buyer with a price quote that includes packing costs, insurance, and freight (CIF price). The average Italian business representative can then usually determine the charges for customs, taxes, and local transportation to arrive at the importer’s final landed cost. The customary terms of sale in Italy are either cash or net. Sales made on cash terms call for payment before delivery, on delivery, or shortly after delivery -- usually within 10 days. A two to five percent discount is made for payment of the full amount of the transaction at the end of the specified period from one to four months from the date of the invoice. The length of the period depends on the commodity involved, the credit standing of the buyer, and the motivation of the seller. A period of up to two years is often allowed for payment of capital goods, store equipment, trucks, and similar heavy equipment.

 

Some U.S. suppliers have lost business because Italian firms believe their payment terms are too rigid. Exporters should regard financing as another competitive factor, on par with the product itself, the delivery date, or after-sales service. U.S. manufacturers will be more competitive by allowing accounts to be settled from 60 to 120 days following receipt of the order.

 

Although originally an Italian creation, the use of irrevocable letters of credit has declined appreciably in Italy in recent years. Because of the growing reluctance of Italian firms to pay high fees associated with letters of credit, American exporters should explore other mechanisms to ensure payment from Italian customers of uncertain credit worthiness, or risk losing the sale. Alternatives include export credit insurance and guarantee programs available through the Foreign Credit Insurance Association (FCIA).

 

Just as sales offer terms should be clear and detailed, shipment terms should conform to contract specifications and should be consistent with any samples that were sent to the Italian importer. Agreed delivery schedules should be met, as prompt delivery may be a decisive consideration of the importer in placing additional orders. When shipping on letters of credit, all terms specified in the letter of credit must be strictly observed. If all the terms are not followed, the bank may not honor the letter of credit.

 

How Does the Banking System Operate

Italy has a well-developed banking and credit system with numerous correspondent U.S. banks. Italian banks are subject to close government supervision, and the Bank of Italy must authorize the establishment of any new bank.

 

U.S. firms seeking to finance major portions of their capital investment outside the United States may find capital available in the Eurodollar market. U.S. bank branches in Italy can assist in financing capital investment. There are more than 780 banks and over 30,000 branches performing commercial and other services throughout Italy. Among the most important are Unicredit Group (established in 2007 by merger of Unicredit and Capitalia), Intesa Sanpaolo (established in 2007 by merger of Banca Intesa and Sanpaolo IMI), Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, (fully acquired in May 2006 by the French banking group BNP Paribas), and Monte dei Paschi di Siena. These banks are a principal source of credit information. Unicredit Group is the largest bank in Italy by market value and the second largest in Europe. Intesa Sanpaolo is the second largest bank in Italy by market value and the sixth largest in Europe.

 

The banking sector has undergone significant consolidation in the last decade, involving about 60 percent of total Italian banking assets. Since his appointment as new Governor of the Central Bank on January 16, 2006, Mario Draghi has publicly called for fragmented Italian banks to further consolidate, set aside their regional rivalries to prepare for international competition or face foreign takeovers. From 1996 to 2006, through mergers and acquisitions involving 349 banks, the number of banks decreased from almost 1,000 to less than 800 at end-2006, resulting in 80 Italian banking groups. This consolidation process, already the largest among European countries in terms of bank assets, is expected to continue over the next several years as the Italian banking sector becomes more competitive in the single European market.

 

Several U.S. banks perform services in Italy, through branches, subsidiaries, or representatives. Many American banks can also provide their commercial customers with services, such as bank reports on overseas buyers, assistance for letters of credit, and foreign exchange. U.S. banks with offices in Italy include Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and Bank of America, as well as numerous smaller, regional banks.

 

Banks in Italy that have the authority to participate in foreign exchange usually have a U.S. correspondent. Foreign currency transfers and foreign exchange transactions must be channeled via authorized intermediaries (for example, the Bank of Italy or the Italian Foreign Exchange Office). Larger Italian banks usually have branches in one or more U.S. cities.

 

The Bank of Italy, Italy's central bank, follows euro notes issues, performs credit, financial and market supervision, and regulates bank mergers. The financial market oversight reform bill, passed at end-2005 and drafted in consultation with the European Central Bank (ECB), cuts the Central Bank Governor's term from life to six years, limits the Governor to two terms in office, and divides the Central Bank's banking competition oversight responsibilities with Italy's anti-trust authority. The bill also authorizes CONSOB, Italy's security markets and company accounting regulator, to raid firms suspected of securities violations and to impound evidence.

 

In early December 2006, the Italian Cabinet approved legislation modifying this same financial market oversight reform law passed at the end of 2005 to eliminate overlapping authority and increase transparency. The new decree law gives CONSOB increased authority in the insurance sector. The decree law also transfers banking anti-trust authority from the Bank of Italy to the national Antitrust Authority. Finally, the decree law revises the voting structure of Italy's thirty-six cooperative banks (banche popolari) to make it easier for financial sector consolidation to move ahead.

 

Foreign-Exchange Controls

Italy has no restrictions on the amount of foreign exchange instruments, currency, or checks that may be brought into the country. Normally, 10,000 euros may be taken out of the country, but any amount declared upon entry may be re-exported.

 

Italian exchange regulations are issued by the Italian Exchange Office, Ufficio Italiano dei Cambi (UIC), Via Quattro Fontane 123, Rome 00184, Italy. Foreign currency may be sold or acquired from the Bank of Italy or any of the banks authorized by the Bank of Italy. In effect, all commercial banks are authorized to conduct foreign exchange transactions.

 

Dollar currency, travelers checks, and, in some cases, personal checks, may be exchanged at banks, exchange offices, authorized tourist offices, and hotels. Major credit cards are accepted with proper identification, and ATMs are ubiquitous.

 

Project Financing

Italy does not qualify for special USG export credit assistance, and Italian banks with branches in the U.S. offer limited export credit assistance. Similarly, large U.S. banks and/or local banks located in the exporter's state can offer factoring; exchange fluctuation hedging and limited exporter's credit services. The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Exim Bank) and FCIA consider Italy a low political risk country. Small business exporters may obtain assistance under the SBA's Export Revolving Line of Credit (ELRC) loan program.

 

The Italian government promotes investment in less developed parts of the country, particularly the south, through incentives such as tax reductions and financial assistance for private investment projects. A number of American companies have taken advantage of these incentives over the years to establish facilities in Italy. The government is trying to create a "one-office" concept, so that potential investors have one source for all the information and permits they may require.

 

Tendering for European public procurement contracts

The U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels has developed a tool to help U.S.- based companies bid on public procurement supplies contracts in particular. All contracts for supplies that are procured by European public authorities (national government departments, regional agencies and public institutions, city authorities) above established thresholds are open to U.S.-based companies by virtue of the Government Procurement Agreement, of which the U.S. and the EU are parties. All the tenders in this database are based on a selection of tenders published in the EU Official Journal that are open to GPA member countries. The database contains on average 6,000 to 10,000 tenders and is updated twice per week.

 

EU financial assistance programs provide a wide array of grants, loans, loan guarantees and co-financing for feasibility studies and infrastructure projects in a number of key sectors (e.g., environmental, transportation, energy, telecommunications, tourism, public health). From a commercial perspective, these initiatives create significant market opportunities for U.S. businesses, U.S.-based suppliers, and subcontractors.

 

The EU supports projects within its Member States, as well as EU-wide "economic integration" projects that cross both internal and external EU borders. In addition, the EU provides assistance to accession countries in Eastern and Southern Europe and Turkey, as well as some of the former Soviet republics.

 

The European Union provides project financing through grants from the European Commission and loans from the European Investment Bank. Grants from the Structural Funds are distributed through the Member States’ national and regional authorities, and are only available for projects in the 27 EU Member States. All grants for projects in non- EU countries are managed through the EuropeAid Cooperation agency in conjunction with various European Commission departments, called "Directorates-General."

 

The CSEU Tenders Database

The U.S. Commercial Service at the U.S. Mission to the European Union offers a tool on its website to help U.S.-based companies identify European public procurement opportunities. The database features all current public procurement tenders issued by all national and regional public authorities in the 27 Member States of the European Union, plus four other European countries, and that are open to U.S.-based firms under the terms of the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) implemented in 1995. The database is updated twice weekly and is easy to use with a range of search options, including approximately 20 industry sectors. The database also contains tenders for public procurement contracts relating to structural funds.

 

EU Structural Funds

The EU Structural Funds, including the European Regional Development Fund, were created in 1975 to assist economically depressed regions of the European Union that required industrial restructuring. The EU earmarked EUR 308 billion for projects under the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund programs for the 2007-2013 period for the EU-27. In addition to funding economic development projects proposed by Member States or local authorities, EU Structural Funds also support specialized projects promoting EU socioeconomic objectives. Member States negotiate regional and “sectoral” programs with officials from the regional policy Directorate-General at the European Commission.

 

For projects financed through the Structural Funds, Member State officials are the key decision-makers. They assess the needs of their country; investigate projects; evaluate bids; and award contracts. To become familiar with available financial support programs in the Member States, it is advisable for would-be contractors to meet with local officials to discuss local needs.

 

Tenders issued by Member States' public contracting authorities for projects supported by EU grants are subject to EU public procurement legislation if they meet the EU minimum contract value requirement for the eligible sector. Below this threshold, tender procedures are subject to national procurement legislation. There are no overt prohibitions against the participation of U.S. companies, either as developers or concessionaires of projects supported partially by the Structural Funds, or as bidders on subsequent public tenders related to such projects, but it is advisable to team up with a local partner. All Structural Fund projects are co-financed by national authorities and most may also qualify for a loan from the European Investment Bank. The private sector is also involved in project financing.

 

The Cohesion Fund

The Cohesion Fund is another instrument of EU structural policy. Its EUR 61.5 billion (2007-2013) budget seeks to improve cohesion within the EU by funding transport infrastructure and environmental projects in Portugal, Spain, Greece and the twelve new (since 2004) EU Member States from Central and Eastern Europe. These projects are generally co-financed by national authorities, the European Investment Bank, and the private sector.

 

The Trans-European Networks

The European Union also provides financial support to the Trans-European Networks (TENs) to develop infrastructure, strengthen cohesion and increase employment across greater Europe. Launched at the Essen Counsel (Germany) in 1994, the TENs are a series of transport, telecommunications and energy projects that are continually being expanded and upgraded. The TENs are largely financed by private sector and non-EU sources. The EU does, however, provide grants from the Cohesion Fund, loans from the European Investment Bank (and loan guarantees from the European Investment Fund), and partial feasibility study grants for the TENs. There are no overt EU restrictions on the participation of U.S. firms in the TENs.

 

Other EU Grants for Member States

Another set of sector-specific grants offers assistance to EU Member States in the fields of science, technology, communications, energy, environmental protection, education, training and research. Tenders related to these grants are posted on the various websites of the directorates-generals of the European Commission. Conditions for participation are strict and participation is usually restricted to EU firms or tied to EU content.

 

External Assistance Grants

The EuropeAid Cooperation Office is the European Commission agency in charge of managing the EU's external aid programs. This Agency is responsible for the management of the entire project cycle, from identification to evaluation, while the Directorates-General in charge of External Relations and Development, are responsible for the drafting of multi-annual programs. The EuropeAid website offers extensive information on the range of grant programs, the kind of projects that are eligible, as well as manuals to help interested parties understand the relevant contract law. However, participation to calls for tender for contracts financed by EuropeAid is reserved for enterprises located in the EU Member States and requires that the products used to respond to these projects are manufactured in the EU or in the aid recipient country. European subsidiaries of U.S. firms are eligible to participate in these calls for tender.

 

Two new sets of programs have been approved for the financing period 2007-2013. As of January 2007, the EU will provide specific Pre-Accession financial assistance to the accession candidate countries that seek to join the EU through a new instrument called the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA). Also, the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) will provide assistance to countries that are the Southern Mediterranean and Eastern neighbors of the EU.

 

- IPA replaces the following programs: PHARE (Poland and Hungary Assistance for Restructuring of the Economy), ISPA (Instrument for Structural Pre-Accession financing transport and environment projects), SAPARD (projects in the agriculture sector), CARDS (aid to southern Balkans) and the Turkey Facility Fund. IPA focuses on priorities linked to the adoption of the acquis communautaire (the body of European Union law that must be adopted by accession candidate countries as a precondition to accession), i.e., building up the administrative and institutional capacities and financing investments designed to help them comply with European Commission law. IPA will also finance projects destined to countries that are potential candidate countries, especially in the Balkans. The budget of IPA for 2007- 2013 is EUR 11.4 billion.

- ENPI: replaces the former TACIS and MEDA programs. The European Neighborhood Policy program covers the EU’s neighbors to the east and along the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean i.e. Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Moldova, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Ukraine. ENPI budget is € 11,9 billion for 2007-2013.

 

Loans from the European Investment Bank

Headquartered in Luxembourg, the European Investment Bank (EIB) is the financing arm of the European Union. Since its creation in 1958, the EIB has been a key player in building Europe. As the EIB's lending practices evolved over the years, it became highly competent in assessing, reviewing and monitoring projects. As a non-profit banking institution, the EIB offers cost-competitive, long-term lending in Europe. Best known for its project financial and economic analysis, the Bank makes loans to both private and public EU-based borrowers for projects in all sectors of the economy, such as telecommunications, transport, energy infrastructure and environment.

 

While the EIB mostly funds projects within the EU, it lends outside the EU as well (e.g., in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe; Latin America; and Pacific and Caribbean states). In 2007, the EIB approved loans for projects worth EUR 56.4 billion, of which around 16% was lent outside the EU. The EIB also plays a key role in supporting EU enlargement with loans used to finance improvements in infrastructure, research and industrial manufacturing to help those countries prepare for eventual EU membership.

 

Projects financed by the EIB must contribute to the socioeconomic objectives set out by the European Union, such as fostering the development of less favored regions; improving European transport and telecommunication infrastructure; protecting the environment; supporting the activities of SMEs; assisting urban renewal; and, generally promoting growth, competitiveness and employment in Europe. Last year, the EIB created a list of projects to be considered for approval and posted the list on its website.

 

The EIB presents attractive business opportunities to U.S. businesses. EIB lending rates are lower than most other commercial rates. Like all EIB customers, however, U.S. firms must apply the loan proceeds to a project that contributes to the European objectives cited above.

 

The EIB's i2i (Innovation 2010 Initiative) is designed to highlight projects that support innovative technology in the European Union, in particular by financing broadband and multimedia networks; the physical or virtual infrastructure providing local access to these networks; and research and development infrastructures, especially in the less developed regions of the European Union. i2i will also finance projects to computerize schools and universities and to provide information technology training in conjunction with public authorities.

 

The US Mission to the European Union in Brussels has developed a database to help US-based companies bid on EIB public procurement contracts in non-EU countries in particular. The EIB-financed contracts that are open to US-based companies are featured in this database. All the tenders in this database are extracted from the EU’s Official Journal. The EIB database contains on average 50 to 100 tenders and is updated twice per week.

 

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Posted: 07 January 2010

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