Marco Polos needed to boost exchanges

Updated: 2014-06-12 02:42

By ZHAO YINAN (China Daily)

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Premier says relations with Italy could be frontline with Europe

Marco Polos needed to boost exchanges

Premier Li Keqiang and his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi attend a business seminar in Beijing on Wednesday. Wu Zhiyi / China Daily

When Marco Polo traveled to China in the 13th century, he spent months on the long journey. Seven hundred years later, China and Italy cut that journey to one-and-a-half days of paperwork.

The time required for Chinese to apply for an Italian visa will be cut to 36 hours on July 1.

The visa agreement was reached by Premier Li Keqiang and visiting Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Wednesday, as part of a three-year action plan between the governments. Previously, an Italian visa usually required a week for approval.

"The Italians are usually known for their inefficiency, while the Chinese walk fast. We are willing to learn from the Chinese, which starts from the new visa policy," Renzi said.

China is Italy’s largest trade partner in Asia, but its trade deficit has been widening in recent years. Bilateral trade reached $43.3 billion last year, with goods exported from Italy to China accounting for only one-third. While more than 4,000 Italian companies were investing in China by the end of 2012, only 151 from China are operating in Italy.

According to the action plan, the nations agreed to promote cooperation in environment and sustainable energy resources, agriculture, sustainable urbanization, food, the medical and hygiene industry, and aerospace, where they are highly complementary.

In addition, they will "provide convenience" in visa applications and accommodations for investors in manufacturing, real estate and the arts.

"More Marco Polos are needed between China and Italy to promote bilateral exchanges and make China-Italy relations the frontline of China-Europe relations," Li told reporters after an hour-long meeting with Renzi.

During a meeting with Renzi on Wednesday, President Xi Jinping also mentioned Marco Polo, saying the countries have a long history of friendship and he hoped relations can advance.

Marco Polo was a legendary Italian explorer from Venice who recorded his travels to Central Asian countries and China, believed to be one of the first thorough introductions of China in Europe.

Luo Hongbo, director of the Italy research office of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Renzi’s visit - which comes only three months after taking office - is expected to trigger a new round of investment frenzy.

As Italy is poised to chair the European Union later this year, Luo said the 39-year-old prime minister - the youngest in Italian history - has great ambition in leading Italy to a more dominant and leading position in the EU.