IT is with great pleasure that I can again address the Italian community and the people of Hong Kong on the occasion of our National Day. Our links with Hong Kong are excellent and, from an economic and commercial point of view, getting closer. During the past four years, I have seen Italian companies thrive in this environment. This has been due not only to the credit and the esteem they enjoy because of the quality of our luxury goods, our style of life and culture but also because of the commitment and the skill of our entrepreneurs and economic operators. The Italian community has grown from many points of view since my arrival. Numerically, it has increased from less than 900 to about 3,300. This follows increased interest and more direct involvement of new Italian companies and large groups which have opened offices in Hong Kong. They have been attracted by one of the most sophisticated financial and commercial centres in the world. Hong Kong is also the right place to set up to do business with China and this part of the world in general. Their presence is a sign of their confidence in the future of Hong Kong and confirms a trend that the Italian Consulate-General, the Italian Trade Commission and, more recently, the Italian Business Association have constantly supported and encouraged. Our overall trade with Hong Kong increased in 1994 by 20 per cent compared with 1993, with a peak of 27 per cent in our exports. The contract awarded to an Italian company for the installation of the mechanical, electrical and hydraulic services at the new airport terminal is the largest internationally-awarded building services contract made as a single package within the Chek Lap Kok project. The role played by the Italian community within the territory, its activity and visibility have been on the rise following traditional initiatives organised by the Italian Cultural Society. These include the annual dinner and the Sandy Bay charity event, which this year raised $500,000, as well as new initiatives like the first annual dinner of the Italian Business Association and the 'San Valentine's Night', organised by the Trade Commission and the Italian Fashion Institute. Hong Kong has already proved in many respects its ability to face the complex issues that lie ahead. Different challenges are also expected in Italy, which faces a period of great change, both politically and economically. This year is the 55th anniversary of the end of World War II. It was the end of one of the darkest periods of world history and the beginning of a new era of peace and prosperity built on the principles of freedom, democracy and co-operation - values we strongly believe in as the only basis for real progress. I should like to thank the Italian community in Hong Kong, particularly those who, during this period, have dedicated their efforts to the many initiatives undertaken on a voluntary basis.