* Qatar agrees to 2 bln-euro investment fund for Italian
* Venture will focus on food, fashion, luxury
* Monti offers political reassurance, says next government
will be responsible
By Regan Doherty
DOHA, Nov 19 Qatar agreed on Monday to invest as
much as 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in Italian companies,
aiding efforts by Italy's Prime Minister Mario Monti to breathe
life into a weak economy.
Italy has joined a growing list of European states looking
to tap Qatar's vast wealth to support national industries that
are struggling to finance their way out of recession.
A joint venture between Italy's strategic investment fund
and state-owned Qatar Holding will invest in sectors including
food, fashion and luxury goods, furniture and design, tourism
and leisure, the Italian fund said in a statement on Monday.
The venture will have capital of up to 2 billion euros ($2.5
billion) provided equally by both partners over the first four
years, according to the agreement signed during Monti's visit to
the small, energy-rich Gulf state.
The "IQ Made in Italy Venture" will start with 300 million
euros of capital.
"We have four or five ideas (for investment in Italy) we are
studying at the moment," Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin
Jassim al-Thani said at a news conference without elaborating.
Qatar is also preparing to sign another agreement with Italy
worth 1 billion euros aimed at small and medium-sized
enterprises, Sheikh Hamad said, adding that Qatar would
participate in half that amount.
Monti's visit to the Gulf was partly aimed at attracting new
investment both for Italian sovereign bonds and for companies
which have had serious problems raising capital as the financial
crisis has squeezed bank balance sheets and cut off lending.
"It's significant that Italy now seems to be proactive in
attracting long-term institutional investors and this venture
with Qatar clearly signals that," said Rachel Zeimba, senior
analyst and sovereign wealth fund expert at Roubini Global
Economics in London.
"It is not clear if the investments are restricted to listed
companies alone but it proves that Qatar sees long-term value in
sectors such as food and fashion in the country and wants to
play in on these themes," she said.
Sheikh Hamad said Monti's reform drive since taking office a
year ago had helped the Italian economy and been an important
step in strengthening its overall economic system.
"We believe Italy is a significant partner for Qatar in
Europe," he said.
Monti, called in to head an unelected technocrat government
a year ago at the height of the financial crisis, has faced
growing speculation about his political future after elections
expected in March.
He said nothing about his own plans but repeated on Monday
that the next government would continue the reform path.
"There are no guarantees about what comes after the Italian
elections. But I am confident that we will always have a
responsible government," he said.