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Family Aid 2020
   Vol. 20 No. 13
Thursday April 1, 2021

Trieste The HHLA Land
Between Hamburg and Hong Kong

FIATA, old and new

     This is the period of the year when FIATA Members meet face to face in Zurich at the Headquarters’ session. In 2021 the format had to change due to the pandemic, so the novel FIATA WEEK meeting ran for all registered Members swiftly and flawlessly: on-line only, a useful time to see old friends and listen to old and new topics that are central for FIATA and the entire forwarding sector.     
     Those who wish to read more on the event can consult the Press Release published by the Secretariat.

The Founder in 1807 Was Also Called Francesco

     My dear friend and fellow countryman Francesco Parisi, who was the President of FIATA between 2013 and 2015, is a personality whom FT readers have already met a couple of years ago, when I wrote about him and his 200+ years old company in Trieste. This year, with no chance to meet face to face, I had to make do with an online conversation, actually very informative for me, thanks to Francesco, who allowed me to summarize our talk in an article for our common friend (and FIATA Fellow), Geoffrey Arend. As you may already know the company Francesco Parisi Spa is a historical freight forwarding and logistics business, but its services include the exploitation of a handling, logistics and railway terminal in the port of Trieste for a number of years.

Waiting to Strike a Deal

     The main point of interest for me was Francesco’s deal with the German company HHLA, which had come to some surprise for some, considering he had been negotiating with a Chinese interested party for a considerable duration, to the point of even raising some attention at political level on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mediterranean Port at 45N64, 13E79, the Heart of Europe

     Francesco’s view on the strategic potential of the port of Trieste cannot be clearer: he sees the Adriatic like an enormous navigable canal to the heart of Europe, cutting transit times to the east by almost a week. A look at the map leaves no questions open on this point.
     Limes has published a report on Italy and the sea, which highlights the role of the Adriatic, and Francesco pointed it out to me (translatable from Italian).
     Francesco also recognizes that two world wars in a row had created a complicated situation, which thwarted the competitive advantage of Trieste, once the main port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, into a noticeable decline.
     Francesco’s company is partaking in the PPP project to construct and operate a new marine terminal in the area. So our talk was focused on the circumstances that led Francesco to release part of his majority into German hands (HHLA now holding 50.1% of the shares) after his long negotiations with his Chinese counterparts.

Show Me the First Reel, Please

     Since 2016 there had been very serious negotiations with the Chinese interested party (said to be China Merchants in Trieste’s local newspaper “il Piccolo”, not confirmed directly by the parties concerned), but their conclusion had not arrived yet in 2020. As is in the public domain, the negotiations with the Chinese did not come to fruition, perhaps also due to the additional uncertainty generated by the pandemic, especially in Europe. “We both knew that time was passing, so we informed our Chinese counterparts that they could not be endlessly given exclusive rights in the negotiation, because there were other interested parties,” said Francesco Parisi, who also explained that “only then did the negotiations begin with the Germans, and they were rather swift. HHLA did not take advantage of the COVID19 situation in their approach, but they took a more strategic long-term view, which testified in their favour.”

The Germans Came with a Fast Car

     On September 28, 2020 the investment contract was signed by HHLA, and became effective as soon as the conditions for the so called "golden power clause", which the government could activate, were excluded. The Presidency of the Council of Ministers held the power to veto this kind of transaction on infrastructure, if considered strategic by the State, but in just 20 days the company received the government’s consent for the change of control. Minister Patuanelli, who is from Trieste, fully understanding the importance of this step, attended the meetings.
     The first ship arrived into the newly equipped terminal on March 20, 2021. At 04.00 am on March 21st she left after being unloaded and reloaded, with about one month’s delay on the original plans, and understandably so given the pandemic situation.

Die Geographie ist Wichtig, Oder?

     In Francesco’s view it is strategic for the German group to focus on Trieste, also with a view to finalizing a logistics quadrilateral comprising Hamburg in the North Sea, Tallinn in the Baltic, and Odessa in the Black Sea with the arrival of Trieste in the Adriatic, completing the Mediterranean part. HHLA also owns a railway company in Prague, right in the middle of the four port stations. In this light the project shows its full strategic importance. We just learnt how many billions of dollars, euros, dinars etc. have been wasted in blocking the Suez Canal for about a week: this clarifies with no room left to doubt how strategic the HHLA investment is.

The Smoothness of Silk Makes Ripples on the Waters

     That said, the Chinese had been around since 2016 and it was a very serious negotiation. Francesco maintains that the negotiation was conducted on a purely commercial basis. The Chinese team was probably uncertain that the construction of this infrastructure could be completed in time, and this was probably due to previous experiences of similar nature in Italy. However, Francesco also believes that the negotiations continued until the MoU on the Silk Road with the Italian government was signed. This triggered some debate amid Italy’s traditional allies. Then onwards, things became slightly more difficult. In the end, despite having opened important perspectives at political level, the MoU introduced greater difficulties in private sector negotiations.
     Zeno d'Agostino of the Trieste Port Authority made an interesting point that sounded like: “we are fully involved in the Silk Road, which is not identical to the Belt and Road: the latter is the project of a sovereign state making investments in a different perspective.”
     Having said that, “I'm happy we’ve concluded with the Germans. But there are no intentions to close our doors to anyone,” confirmed Francesco.

Free Trade Brings Prosperity for All, says History

     Historically, continued Francesco: “Italy has always looked north rather than south towards the sea, which has no rational explanation in my view. In Trieste there have been noteworthy Turkish investments for at least one decade and German ones starting in 2020. Rialto, the area where Venice is recognized having been founded on 25th of March 421, hosts the Fontego dei Turchi (Turks’ storehouse) and the Fontego dei Todeschi (Germans’ storehouse), situated next to each other. Within the Most Serene Republic these ancient concessions benefited from exemptions which allowed them to carry out their businesses in peace and prosperity, for themselves and for the Republic. Venice never lost its sovereignty for this reason, but it always traded with everybody. “If necessary, strongly defending its commercial interests.” I interjected Francesco’s point and suggested that Venice started to lose its sovereignty for a number of reasons, in particular when imperialism began to dominate Europe, making free trade decline into colonialism. History tells us that on May 12th 1797, the Most Serene Republic of Venice ceased to exist after 1,376 years, when the Doge, Ludovico Manin, requested the Greater Council of Venice to examine the dire situation. The abdication in favour of the Provisional Municipality of Venice, required to take power by the French invaders led by Napoleon Bonaparte, followed in due course.
     Accidentally, Francesco and I had celebrated Venice’s foundation in our conversation, precisely 1,600 years later. History is teaching the lesson that free trade brings prosperity and fine arts, thus providing food for our bodies and our souls; in these Venice excelled for well over a thousand years.
     “After the Germans, the expressions of interest in the port of Trieste have multiplied and this is certainly a good sign for the future,” concluded Francesco Parisi, the busy and cunning entrepreneur whose long career taught him to deal with every culture on fair terms. Our talk saw its positive end with the hope for a renewed period of prosperity for Trieste and the rest of Europe, based on the firm intention to cooperate on fair and reciprocal terms with all relevant parties.
     If reading this article is not sufficient and you wish to hear Francesco Parisi directly speaking on these topics, your resource of choice is POLARIS LIVE with Sarwar Kashmeri. To access, click here.
Marco L. Sorgetti

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