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Foreign Direct Investment

According to the World Investment Report 2021 by UNCTAD, FDI inflows dropped sharply to USD -388 million in 2020, down from USD 18 billion in 2019. This was mostly due to the early outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Italy being the first country in Europe to be affected by the spreading of the virus (and the first one to recur to lockdowns). In the same year, the stock of FDI was about USD 486 billion. Investments are mainly directed to manufacturing, professional, scientific and technical activities, wholesale and retail trade, financial activities and insurance, and ICT. According to the latest data, the two most attractive sectors for foreign investors in 2020 were business services (13%) and software and IT services (12%) (EY). Also growing compared to one year earlier were logistics and wholesale (12%), financial services (8%) and pharmaceuticals (7%). Furthermore, of the total of 113 new projects directly financed by foreign investors in 2020, 22% were in the area of sales and marketing (EY). The main investing countries are Luxembourg (19.8%), France (18%), the Netherlands (17.1%) and the UK (13.8% - OECD statistics). According to the latest figures from OECD, in the first half of 2021 total investments to Italy stood at USD 6.7 billion, up from a negative flow of USD 4.6 billion in the same period one year earlier.

Among the reasons to invest in Italy, there is the fact that the country has one of the biggest markets in the EU, it has a diversified economy and a skilled workforce, it is one of the main manufacturing countries in the world and has good infrastructures and a strategic position, at the crossroads between Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East. Nevertheless, high procedural and tax costs and slow administrative processes, high labour costs, regional disparities, corruption and organised crime are still among the factors that hinder investments to the country. In order to foster Italy’s attractiveness, the government created “InvestItalia”, an agency dependent on the Prime Minister which coordinates Italy’s promotion activities to attract foreign direct investments. Furthermore, the government allocated EUR 23.8 billion in 2021-2023 for the “Industry 4.0” plan aimed at improving the Italian industrial sector’s competitiveness through a mix of policy measures, tax credits, and research and infrastructure funding.  Finally, the country’s government amended the “Golden Power” law, which gives it authority to block foreign acquisitions of companies operating in strategic sectors (as happened in the 5g networks sector). Italy ranks 58th in the latest Doing Business report of the World Bank, losing seven positions compared to the previous edition.

Foreign Direct Investment 201820192020
FDI Inward Flow (million USD) 37,68218,146-388
FDI Stock (million USD) 433,385444,507485,842
Number of Greenfield Investments* 170222165
Value of Greenfield Investments (million USD) 5,5146,9516,902

Source: UNCTAD - Latest available data.

Note: * Greenfield Investments are a form of Foreign Direct Investment where a parent company starts a new venture in a foreign country by constructing new operational facilities from the ground up.

Country Comparison For the Protection of Investors Italy OECD United States Germany
Index of Transaction Transparency* 7.0 6.5 7.0 5.0
Index of Manager’s Responsibility** 4.0 5.3 9.0 5.0
Index of Shareholders’ Power*** 6.0 7.3 9.0 5.0

Source: Doing Business - Latest available data.

Note: *The Greater the Index, the More Transparent the Conditions of Transactions. **The Greater the Index, the More the Manager is Personally Responsible. *** The Greater the Index, the Easier it Will Be For Shareholders to Take Legal Action.


What to consider if you invest in Italy

Strong Points

The strong points of Italy in terms of foreign investment include:

  • Italy has a strong and still important industrial sector (21.4% of GDP in 2018, latest data available by World Bank) as well as a strong and diversified export ecosystem.
  • Italian SMEs are very competitive with exports.
  • Italy hosts major trade shows that attract buyers from all over the world. For example, Salone del Mobile 2019 in Milan attracted around 400 thousand visitors from around the world (+12.5% compared to 2018).
  • Very good infrastructure (although disparate depending on the region)
  • Skilled workforce with technical knowledge and experience in high quality production and tourism.
  • The government has been pursuing a strategic economic repositioning: the government resulting from the coalition between the Five Stars Movement and the centre-left Democratic Party in 2019 has as its main objectives the innovation and digitisation of the Public Administration, the strengthening of exports by identifying the most suitable tools to promote Made in Italy, and a more intense coordination between universities and research entities.
  • Labour market and banking sector reforms have been implemented and are beginning to bear fruit.
Weak Points

The key weak points of Italy in terms of foreign investment include : 

  • High procedural costs and slow administrative processes that significantly slow down the process of starting a business 
  • A fragile banking system
  • Weak enforcement of intellectual property rights
  • Corruption and organised crime that impact business confidence and thus significantly slow down investment and development 
  • Labour costs are high and productivity has barely increased over the past 15 years; a fact that can be explained, among other things, by Italy's specialisation in low and medium value added sectors
  • State investment in R & D remains low
  • Private and public debts are high and create a rigid business environment because the state has to impose heavy taxes.
  • Unemployment remains large (9.8% in 2020, IMF) and hampers household confidence.
  • Regional disparity between north and south is fairly pronounced: for example, infrastructure in some regions, particularly in the South, is poor.
  • Political instability
Government Measures to Motivate or Restrict FDI
The Government supports FDI via tax credits. Companies investing in strategic intangible assets can benefit from a tax credits of 15%, whereas those investing in machinery and capital goods qualify for a tax credit of 20-40%. Further public support is granted to new investments in manufacturing and R&D, especially in southern regions and in Special Economic Zones.

In 2016, the Government launched a three-year industrial plan, “Industria 4.0”, aimed at boosting private investment in research and development. “Industria 4.0” essentially translates into a series of measures, economic incentives for the digital development of businesses: these include hyperamortisation, superamortisation and soft loans for innovative start-ups.
Moreover, since 2019 and until the available resources are exhausted, companies that make investments in new machinery, plant or equipment for productive use and digital technologies can benefit “Nuova Sabatini" Law facilities. It is an important part of the Industry Plan 4.0 and consists of a contribution by the government to partially cover the interest paid by the company on bank loans relating to the investments made. In order to support the investments of companies that have difficulty in accessing credit, the Industria 4.0 plan has a special instrument: the Guarantee Fund. It aims at facilitating access to sources of finance (loan/grant) for SMEs through the provision of a public guarantee (up to a maximum of 80% of the financing), that works alone or in conjunction with other guarantees and securities. Lastly, with regard to expenses in Research and Development, Industria 4.0 provides for access to a tax credit from 50% to 25% up to a maximum of 20 million euros per year.

The Italian Trade Agency's Invest in Italy website provides guidance on investing and setting up a business in the country.


Investment Opportunities

The Key Sectors of the National Economy
Italy has a very large presence in the aerospace sector (it is a leading producer of helicopters, a partner in the project for the construction of the international space station, etc.).

In the automobile sector, Italy distinguishes itself in design, technology and skills, with avant-garde research centres. The automobile market is constantly expanding and is attractive to foreign manufacturers.

The Italian chemical industry is one of the country's most dynamic sectors (with a strong propensity for innovation, highly qualified human resources and large multinationals who have chosen the peninsula to set up their business). Italy is the third-largest European producer in the chemical sector and a prominent actor on the world stage. In a country where volumes of production and consumption of agri-food products and beverages are the largest in Europe, tradition and innovation create new opportunities to conquer new foreign markets. The country is characterised by a tradition of typical products, culinary dishes and wines well-known all over the world, and very high-level standards of quality and safety.

Italy has many investment opportunities in new technologies: nanotechnologies, biotechnologies, high tech products, etc. Italy also enjoys a favourable and stimulating environment to develop Life Science projects (competitive costs, simple standards, search for excellence). Italy is also a logistical platform for international trade, with new investments and the best transport and telecommunications infrastructures around the Mediterranean. Finally, Italy is the fourth most-popular tourist destination in the world, an industry worth around € 70 billion a year.

High Potential Sectors
Health and well-being, aeronautics, transport, arms industry and naval sector, energy, real estate, tourism, food industry.
Privatization Programmes
Airline companies, railways, natural gas.
Tenders, Projects and Public Procurement
Ted - Tenders Electronic daily, Business Opportunities in the European Union
DgMarket, Tenders Worldwide

Sectors Where Investment Opportunities Are Fewer

Monopolistic Sectors
Defense, tobacco, energy networks.
Sectors in Decline
Metallurgy, textiles.