Italy approves bill to set up $1.1 billion fund for strategic firms

<html xmlns=""><head><title>UPDATE 1-Italy approves bill to set up $1.1 billion fund for strategic firms</title></head><body>

Fund aims to ease procurement of critical raw materials

Can invest in listed non-financial companies, draft shows

Rome seeks at least 500 mln euros from private investors

Updates after government approval, adds details from draft

By Giuseppe Fonte and Angelo Amante

ROME, May 31 (Reuters) -Italy's cabinet on Wednesday approved a bill to create a fund to support domestic firms, the industry minister said in a statement, in a move aimed at shoring up strategic supply chains.

The upcoming national strategic fund for "Made in Italy" products will have an initial endowment of 1 billion euros ($1.10 billion) in state cash, the statement said, adding it would also aim to boost procurementof "critical raw materials."

A draft seen by Reuters showed that the new vehicle was alsoentitled to invest in domestic, listed firms not operating in the financial sector.

The scheme will aim to raise at least an additional 500 million euros from private investors, according to the document.

Government sources have previously told Reuters that the administration led by nationalist Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is courting sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Azerbaijan and Norway to give the fund more firepower.

Industry Minister Adolfo Urso's project is part of a broader proposal from theright-wing administration aimed at supporting Italian business, focusing on the country's traditional products and industries like pasta, pottery and woodwork.

According to the draft, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni plans to finance the 1-billion euro endowment through part of the resources originally earmarked for "Patrimonio Rilancio", a fund launched in 2021 to bolster companies hit by the pandemic.

Run by the state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP), the PatrimonioRilancio fund wasoriginally intended to provide some 40 billion euros of financing, but has so far invested just around 1 billion.

Once the bill is approved by parliament, the government will issue a decree defining howthe fund will work.

Italy's plan takes its cue from an initiative announced this month in France, where private equity firm InfraVia Capital Partners will launch a 2-billion euro fund dedicated to critical materials projects, a quarter of which will be funded by Paris.

Rome's announcement of the project this month triggered sceptical reactions from analysts and economists, who argued among other things that the fund risked duplicating CDP Equity, a CDP unit formed in 2011 and tasked with injecting capital into strategic assets.

($1 = 0.9084 euros)

Editing by Alison Williams and Deepa Babington


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