Rome - Italy on Saturday signed a “non-binding” protocol with China to take part in Beijing’s new “Silk Road” of transport and trade links stretching from Asia to Europe. In doing so, Italy became the first G7 country to sign up for the massive project which has sparked unease in the US and the European Union as China aspires to a greater world role.

Visiting Chinese President XI Jinping and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte both attended a ceremony for the signing of 29 memoranda of understanding which Italian media said were worth 5.0 to 7.0 billion euros ($5.6 to 8.0 billion).

Also signing the accords were the chairman of China’s chairman of the National Development Commission He Lifeng and Italian deputy prime minister and Minister of Economic Development  Luigi Di Maio.  

Italian financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore said the value of the Chinese investments could rise to 20 billion euros but would for now be limited to the strategic ports of Genoa and Trieste. 

Italy has rolled out the red carpet for Xi, who Friday sought to allay Western unease over his transformational infrastructure initiative by emphasising the $1 trillion project’s mutual benefits. 

Italian firms to benefit include the Ansaldo group, which wins a contract for making turbines, and the Danieli group, which lands a 1.1 billion euro deal to build an iron and steel plant in Azerbaijan.

The accords also foresee the opening up of the Chinese market for Italian oranges as well as a partnership for Chinese tourism giant Ctrip, notably with Rome’s airports.