Q&A: Ilaria Baldan of the Italian Chamber of Commerce – West on keeping Italy alive and well in British Columbia

Baldan digs on the organization's 30 years in business and what's next.

Italian Chamber of Commerce - West

Credit: Italian Chamber of Commerce – West/ Ilaria Baldan [centre] is the executive director of the Italian Chamber of Commerce – West

Baldan digs on the organization’s 30 years in business and what’s next 

1. What’s the main role of the Italian Chamber of Commerce – West?

The goal is to enhance trade relationships between Canada and Italy—mainly Italy to Canada but we also support Canadians accessing the Italian market. Most of our members are either Canadian or Italian companies that have some involvement with the Italian-Canadian market. Some are companies exporting products to Western Canada, and some may be Canadians that are distributing or exporting products, or they have professional relationships in Italy. On the institutional and community side, we work closely with the Italian network and the community, the consulate general in Vancouver, the embassy, the trade commissioner in Toronto, the Embassy of Canada in Rome.  

2. You have around 200 members, including many well-known restaurants in Vancouver and B.C., what are your main priorities in working with your partners?

We have sectors that we work with—we’re very strong on the food and wine sectors, as you mentioned. We work with many delegations of food and wine producers, we actually just had an event with a delegation from Tuscany, in both Calgary and Vancouver. We’re based in Vancouver but cover all of Western Canada, so we facilitate business there as well. But they came to Vancouver for a wine tasting event, was great.  We also work a lot with the interior design sector where we’ve seen many new showrooms opening in Vancouver, Stefano Ricci and Poliform. We establish a connection with them to facilitate an understanding of their products in the market.  

3. On the topic of food, I’m sure you get this a lot, but what’s your favourite Italian restaurant in Vancouver?

I never answer this question [laughs]. Of course I have a favourite, but on the record I can’t tell. We always get questions like Where can I find this, where can I eat? That’s why we crated two platforms, one for design and one for food—the Italian Design Map and the Italian Food Map. On the design map, you can find all the members featuring products professionally designed. The food map is the equivalent for grocery stores and restaurants. 

4. How many people do you have on your team, and how many events do you throw per year?

We’re a very small team of five right now, and we host probably close to 30 events a year. There’s never less than two per month.  

5. What have been some of the bigger challenges and successes you’ve faced since you’ve been with the Chamber?

Well, I’ll start with successes. Between 2018 and ‘19, we were able to twice bring the delegation from the region of Emilia-Romagna, one of the most important food exporters in Italy. They make parmigiano and Prosciutto di Parma, to name a couple. We hosted them twice during that timeline, it was a big success and we were able to establish a relationship on the government level.  

In terms of challenges—2020 and ‘21, for quite obvious reasons. It was really challenging to switch to not hosting events and having people travel and connect back and forth. For us, it was quite a shock. Because we already had some online platforms like the design and food maps I mentioned, we were able to survive.  

6. How large is the organization as a whole?

We’re part of an organization called Assocamerestero, which unites 84 Italian chambers of commerce around the world. We have nine in North America, three in Canada, five in the U.S. and one in Mexico. For Canada, it’s us, a chamber in Ontario and one in Montreal. We’re all connected, even though every chamber is independent. We meet twice a year in Italy. We were just there a couple months ago in Umbria.  

7. Do you ever get the urge to go back permanently?

Always. Who doesn’t? [Laughs.] For as much as we may deny it, we always want to go back. But just for the good things, not the bad things. I’m fortunate enough to be able to travel quite often for work.