Southern Italy Again Driving Part of Country’s Exports

Trade and Economics - April 2, 2024

The recent report from the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) reveals a significant increase in exports in Southern Italy, recording a notable increase of 17% in 2023 compared to the previous year.

This increase was mainly driven by the pharmaceutical and automotive sectors, with particular emphasis on the Campania region. Southern Italy, particularly Campania, has played a key role in boosting exports, with notable sales of pharmaceuticals and vehicles. In contrast, Northern Italy has seen more moderate growth, with Piedmont playing a leading role, especially in the automotive sector. Lombardy showed more modest export growth, while Marche and Lazio contributed to the contraction in Central Italy. In the North-East, Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia recorded a decrease in exports. The islands, however, recorded a contraction, mainly due to the reduction in exports of refined petroleum products.

During 2023, the increase in exports of pharmaceutical items, chemical-medicinal products and botanicals from Campania and Tuscany, together with vehicle sales from Piedmont and Campania, contributed significantly to the +1.5% of national sales on foreign markets. Further increases were generated by the increase in sales of machinery and equipment from Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, Veneto and Tuscany. On the other hand, the contraction in sales of refined petroleum products from Sicily and Sardinia, together with the decreases in exports of pharmaceutical items, chemical-medicinal and botanical products from the Marche and Lazio, has negatively influenced national exports.

Analysing the regional data, we observe that in 2023 the greatest positive contributions to national exports come from the Marche region, with a notable increase in sales to China, followed by Campania with significant increases towards Switzerland and the United States. Tuscany also recorded an increase in sales to the United States and Piedmont to France, Germany and the OPEC countries. On the contrary, there were decreases in exports from Tuscany to Switzerland, from the Marche to Belgium, Germany and the United States, from Lombardy to Germany and from Lazio to Belgium. Overall, the provinces that contributed most to supporting sales on foreign markets in 2023 were Naples, Turin, Siena and Milan, highlighting a significant role of urban areas in promoting regional and national exports.

These data illustrate a complex picture of export dynamics in Italy, with the South emerging as an important growth engine driven by key sectors such as pharmaceuticals and automotive. However, regional challenges and disparities are also evident and require special attention to ensure equitable and sustainable economic growth across the country. Interestingly, some sectors and regions have seen significant changes in their export performance over the course of 2023. For example, the Marches have reported a notable increase in sales to China, indicating a growing penetration of international markets for their products. Likewise, Campania has shown strong growth in exports to Switzerland and the United States, suggesting an increase in the competitiveness of its key sectors on global platforms. It is necessary to carefully examine the causes of these declines and adopt targeted strategies to strengthen the competitive position of regional industries on an international scale.

It is essential to invest in the infrastructure and resources of the best performing areas to maximize their potential and ensure balanced and sustainable economic growth. However, challenges remain, especially for the southern Italian regions and islands, which have seen contractions in their exports, particularly in the refined petroleum products sector. This highlights the need to adopt targeted policies to address the specific economic challenges of these regions and promote economic diversification to reduce dependence on vulnerable sectors.Integrating the potential of the Southern regions with the production capabilities of the North will be fundamental to confirm Italian solidity, especially in exports, including intercontinental ones.