The Italian experience of small and medium businesses will help South Africa in the 2010 Fifa World Cup and beyond, Trade and Industry Minister Mandisi Mpahlwa said on Monday.
"Italy's experience and culture of small, medium and family-owned businesses will help in the long term. This is something South Africa is struggling with," the minister said on the first day of the SA-Italy Business Forum in Johannesburg.
An Italian delegation, including Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema, arrived on Monday for the forum, intended to improve trade relations between the two countries.
Mpahlwa said trade partnerships, while focusing on 2010, would also look beyond it.
The minister added that despite doubts expressed in the international arena about South Africa's ability to host the World Cup, the Italian response was "generally positive".
"Judging from the sheer number of business people here and the diversity of the groups... it points to a strong enthusiasm for investment and participation," he said.
Long-term investment in South Africa, and an infusion of Italian quality into local manufacturing, were results hoped for from the forum.
"South Africa is challenged by a need to raise the level of value added products... Italy is strong on that. We need to infuse that focus on quality in the South African economy," the minister said.
"Our relations with Italy hold significant promise for the growth of economic relations as well as co-operation in key sectors," Mpahlwa said.
Opening the forum on Monday morning Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said the challenge was to narrow the balance of trade, currently in Italy's favour, to ensure that both countries benefited from trade relations.
"... Italian business has a lot to teach South Africa in the terms of SMMEs, and we look forward to that collaboration.
"There are a number of sectors where collaboration is feasible, such as the textile industry and especially in clothing design.
"Furthermore, in the jewellery sector; Italy is also renowned for its design there and South Africa is a pole player in the raw materials of this industry," she said.
Infrastructure was the sector contributing to South Africa's unprecedented economic growth, Mlambo-Ngcuka said.
"In this sector there is a huge demand for capital goods. South Africa would welcome collaboration with Italy in the provision of these goods."
She expressed hope that the World Cup would open up business opportunities for South Africans and investment partners from all over the world.
Trade between the two countries was growing steadily, reaching R23-billion last year, Mlambo-Ngcuka said.
Italy is among South Africa's top 10 trading partners, with a positive trade balance in favour of Italy.
Car parts, machine tools, industrial machinery, jewellery and telecommunications equipment are among Italy's offering to South Africa, while South Africa supplies Italy with precious and non-ferrous metal, basic iron and steel and ferro-alloys, coal and quarried stones.