RTTNews - Chinese President Hu Jintao Monday urged business leaders in China and Italy to join hands to tackle the challenges posed by the global financial crisis to the trade and economic cooperation between the two countries, reports say.

President Hu and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, during their talks in Rome, pledged their countries' efforts to further promote bilateral relations and cooperation in a number of areas even as they signed 38 deals worth over $2 billion, including a Fiat SpA (FIA.MI)-Guangzhou Automobile Industry Group (GAIG) joint venture to produce cars and engines in China.

The 50:50 agreement will see the partners invest more than $557 million and build a 700,000 sq m production plant in Changsha in Hunan province. Fiat also signed an additional seven deals worth $225 million with Chinese companies.

Other agreements include a $42 million deal between Finmeccanica (SIFI.MI) and Chinese company Chongqing on sales in the Chinese market of electronics and components as well an MOU between Italian bank Mediobanca (MDBI.MI) and the China development bank to support cross-border investments.

Later, in his speech to a business forum in Rome that was attended by hundreds of business leaders from China and Italy, as well as Berlusconi, Hu hailed the economic cooperation between the two countries, noting that Italy is among the first nations to open trade with China. He said the trade volume has grown rapidly over the past 39 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations.

As next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the forging of bilateral diplomatic relations, China is willing to join hands with Italy to lift bilateral ties to a higher level, Hu said. In 2004, the two countries agreed to establish an all-around strategic partnership, unveiling a new page for Chinese-Italian friendly cooperation, he said.

In Italy for a state visit, President Hu spoke out against protectionism that has increased since the beginning of the global economic slowdown. He said the principle of opening up should be adhered to in international trade and economic cooperation, calling for opposition to protectionism of various forms.

He said China and Italy should join hands to take concrete actions to fight protectionism in international trade and investment and strive to safeguard an open, fair global economic and trade system.

Stating that China sent several delegations to Europe to purchase goods and boost mutual investment just months after the global financial crisis began, Hu said the move is to boost bilateral economic cooperation and the common development worldwide at large.

In his speech, Hu also offered a five-point proposal on boosting trade and economic cooperation between China and Italy, including creating a better investment environment and encouragements for small and medium businesses.

The Chine president said Italian companies are welcome to explore business opportunities in China and that his government also encourages Chinese companies to invest in Italy.

Economic ties between Italy and China, which reached $38 billion, will be developed, and we are counting on improving them in the future despite the crisis, said Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy, the fifth largest trading partner within the European Union.

Berlusconi said that all the bilateral issues were dealt with during his talks with the Chinese president to take forward and develop the relationship which we have enjoyed in recent years.

He promised to visit China for the Expo in 2010, which will be marked as the Year of Chinese Culture in Italy, adding that collaboration with Beijing for the Milan Expo has been confirmed. Berlusconi also thanked Hu for his solidarity towards Italy three months after the earthquake in L'Aquila.

The Chinese president arrived in Rome Sunday for a state visit, and he will also attend the outreach session of the Group of Eight (G8) summit scheduled for Thursday in the central Italian city of L'Aquila.

At the outreach session scheduled Thursday, leaders of the G8 nations as well as China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico, and Egypt, a special guest of the Italian president, will discuss a number of pressing issues including the world economy, the financial crisis, and international trade.

Hu also met Monday with the leaders of both houses of the Italian parliament, and the two sides pledged efforts to boost exchanges and cooperation between the two countries' legislatures.

For comments and feedback: contact editorial@rttnews.com