Italy has a contemporary and efficient freight transport infrastructure, which facilitates an effective system for freight forwarding. Most of the transport infrastructure was built after the Second World War and is continually updated. Most freight forwarding in Italy is carried out by road and there is an excellent road network, especially in the north of the country, which is well utilised by shipping companies and those involved in freight transport. The main routes are Turin-Milan-Venice-Trieste, Milan-Bologna-Florence-Rome, Milan-Genoa and Rome-Naples. There are over 4000 miles of expressways, mainly in the north and central areas of Italy.
As well as the road network, Italy also has an efficient system of railways, rail and sea ports which together combine to provide the main routes for international freight. Italy also has 1500 miles of waterways although these remain largely undeveloped.
The rail system in Italy is also well developed and very punctual. Mussolini has been credited with getting the Italian trains running on time and whether or not this is factually accurate, the punctuality of the Italian rail system is remarkable. The Italian trains are also cheap and comfortable, compared with those in neighbouring European countries, and the rail network is about to be improved further as the state owned rail company, Ferrovie dello Stato, is developing a project to introduce high speed trains. This will boost further the importance of the rail network to freight forwarders.
However, there is still a shortage of railways in the south and east of Italy and government projects to improve this situation have stalled, together with other planned projects to improve the transport infrastructure in the south such as creating a subway in Naples. The road network is also less efficient in the south of the country. This situation reflects the fact that most of the industry and economic activity is in the north and central areas, so the development of the infrastructure for freight transport has been prioritised by the government in these places whilst the south has lagged behind, with the exception of its seaports. Southern Italy includes 37% of Italy's population, 40% of its land area but only produces 24% of its Gross Domestic Product. So the freight services options are more curtailed in the south of the country than in the north, although the shipping company with good local knowledge can easily overcome these challenges related to freight services in Southern Italy.
Sea ports used to be very important for freight forwarding in Italy and until 1975, a significant amount of cargo went through them. However, their importance has declined in the last thirty years, due to the development of other means of handling international freight. Nevertheless, the ports of Genoa, Trieste, Naples, Taranto, Augusta, Gioia Tauro and Livorno are still very important to their respective regional economies and Italy is still a major player in container shipping and international freight in the Mediterranean. The Italian merchant fleet consists of over 2000 ships, over half of which are over 100 tonnes.
The national air carrier Alitalia connects Italy to 60 countries and Italy has 136 airports. The most significant are Fiumicino (Rome), Malpensa and Linate in Milan, Ronchi dei Legionari (Trieste), Caselle (Turin) and Marco Polo (Venice). Again, the list of the most significant airports shows a bias to the north and central areas of Italy.
The Italian economy has grown rapidly since the Second World War and Italy is the world's seventh largest economy, in USD exchange rate terms, although the economy has faltered more recently, showing sluggish growth since 2002. This economic strength over the last 50 years has led to the development of a thriving and efficient freight services sector, with a large number of shipping companies and freight forwarders operating throughout the country and assisting with the efficient freight forwarding of both exports and imports.
The main economic strength of Italy is in the processing and manufacturing of goods, primarily in small and medium sized family-owned firms. Italian industrial companies, often of small size, are mainly located in the 'industrial triangle' created by Milan, Turin and Genoa. The main Italian exports are precision machinery, motor vehicles, chemicals and electrical goods, but its more famous exports are related to food or fashion.
Agriculture is important, with the northern part of Italy producing grains, rice, maize, meat, fruits and dairy products, whilst the south of the country produces fruit, vegetables, olive oil and durum wheat. Italy is also one of the world's top two wine producers. So the freight services industry has evolved to be able to cater for the specialist demands of Italian products.
Italy's most important trade is with other countries in the European Union, which account for nearly 60% of total trade. Of these, the most significant is Germany, followed by France, then the Netherlands.
Many a shipping company and freight company have therefore developed expertise in providing freight services between Italy and the various other countries of the European Union.
It is to be expected that the infrastructure for freight transport in Italy will continue to improve and that the disparity between the north and the south of the country will begin to close over time.