ONCE again, since my arrival in Hongkong, I have the honour and privilege to comment about Italian National Day. I would like to express my warmest wishes and thanks to all Italian citizens in the territory and to the people of Hongkong, in particular to the many friends of Italy. In the past 12 months, much has happened in my country and we are still going through some difficult moments in our national life. Nevertheless, the most important aspect is there is wide and solid optimism and confidence that, at the end of this process, Italy will emerge stronger. Meanwhile, the Italian presence abroad, in particular in Hongkong, has continued to grow. I am pleased that in following this trend it has been possible to see the establishment of the Italian Business Association (IBA) in Hongkong at the end of March. I am convinced the IBA has filled a gap and its presence is much needed because of the continuing and impressive rhythm of growth of the Hongkong economy and because of the significant and visible Italian presence. In this respect, I would like to stress that Italy is confident that, in the years to come and far beyond 1997, Hongkong will continue to play not only its traditional role as a financial and commercial centre for the entire region, but also as the doorway to China due to the increasing integration of its economy with Guangdong and southern China in general. Concerning the Italian presence, I would like to draw attention to Italy's volume of bilateral trade with Hongkong of HK$27.8 billion, which rates third among the European Community countries. There are more than 300 Italian companies operating branches,representative offices, joint ventures or franchising or distribution agreements - and this is the most important Italian business presence in the Far East region. Since my arrival in Hongkong, this number has increased, as has the number of Italians who have taken up residency in the territory. In this context, the IBA can play an important part in representing the interests and needs of the Italian business community by promoting the image of our country in the sector most vital to Hongkong. It can also aid in co-operating with other institutions to promote a better understanding between Italy and Hongkong and give further impetus to already excellent bilateral relations. One significant example of the increasing level of bilateral relations is the number of direct flights between Hongkong and Rome. Last year, there were only three non-stop flights and now there are seven a week, five of which are operated by our nationalcarrier Alitalia. I would also like to take this opportunity to express my thanks and appreciation to the role and activities of the Dante Alighieri Italian Cultural Society. I consider cultural activities a way of strengthening relations among people and countries and, in this respect, the society has played and will continue to play an important part. The great success of the annual ball this year has been, for me, and I am sure for the majority of my compatriots as well as for our friends in Hongkong, proof that the society has the capacity to grow further, to improve its present activities, and to develop new initiatives. Last October's highly successful first Grape Festival is a significant example of a new event which received an enthusiastic response. It will be taking place again next harvest time and I sincerely hope it will continue as a yearly feast. The other traditional activities have continued with satisfactory results. Among them is the Duchess of Kent Children's Hospital in Sandy Bay which once again proved to be a landmark among Hongkong's charity events. The Dante Alighieri society will endeavour to organise more cultural events and I would like to appeal to everyone to contribute with their generosity and personal efforts to make future plans become a reality. To conclude, let me express once again my best wishes and thanks to the people of Hongkong and to the Italians who live and work in the territory, with special mention to the religious community which dedicates much effort in the humanitarian, educational, hospital and social welfare fields.