ROME - Seven days to prepare what perhaps was the most important mission of Italian entrepreneurs and investors to Libya: one week was the amount of time that elapsed between the official communication of the mission and the delegation's departure, after the government in Tripoli asked the Italian Foreign Ministry and Assafrica & Mediterranean (the operative branch of the Confindustria in the region) to organise a visit on January 23 of top-level business representatives from the country, ranging from giants in the infrastructure sector to small and medium enterprises. Relations between Italy and Libya, reports Assafrica, have never been so positive economically and even the issues of the credit owed to 110 Italian companies seems to have been resolved, even if the distance between what is being offered by Tripoli (450 milion euros) and the money owed to Italian businesses (650 million euros) appears far apart; a gap can be closed because now the difference is the Italian government's ''problem''.
The mission did confirm that the Libyan market is not at all impermeable for Italian companies, which are actually welcomed, and downright needed. This approval seems to mainly be focussed on SMEs, which Tripoli has pinpointed to create joint companies in key areas in the food and agriculture, tourism and training sectors.
In the food and agriculture industry Italian businesses are needed in the processing and conservation sector (the Libyan Sea is among the most abundant in fish); in tourism there is a double need for Libya: increased tourism flow from Italy and to begin investment programmes from Italian players in the industry; in the training sector Libya needs to make use of an excellent school system, which now needs to be capitalised on to prepare a new generation in the technical and management sector.
Italian companies will find a highly receptive situation ''with a climate that appears to have certainly improved since I started to go to Libya in 1998,'' said Pier Luigi D'Agata, the director general of Assafrica & Mediterraneo, who led the delegation together with the president of the Italian-Libyan joint Chamber of Commerce, Antonio De Capoa. A climate that is different and better, which D'Agata translated with one phrase: ''you can detect a new willingness'', which can be seen in the receptiveness shown by Prime Minister Baghdadi al Mahmudi, who said that he will work to eliminate obstacles when he heard about the difficulties of Italian businesspeople obtaining visas, speculating that they could be granted in the airport. All this while Libya is cracking down on visas requested by European citizens.