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Rome deploys special powers over Beijing’s aims on Italian robotics

Who’s behind the Chinese companies eyeing Italian robotics
The Meloni executive is imposing limitations on Robox, a robotics company, granting a software library to Efort Intelligent Equipment, linked to the Chinese government and its plans for technology transfer. The Draghi government had already intervened on the matter

Golden Power on the Robox-Efort deal. The axe of the government’s special powers, used to protect assets of strategic national relevance, has once again fallen on China’s sights on Italian industry. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni took aim at Efort Intelligent Equipment, a leader in robotics linked to the Beijing government, by imposing limitations on the acquisition (under a non-exclusive licence) of a software library created by the Italian robotics company Robox.

Not the first time. In June 2022, the government headed by Mario Draghi had already intervened in Efort’s dealings with Robox using the Golden Power. In that case, it blocked a technology transfer deal (a technical licence to access source codes and files worth €1 million). The entire operation, which also entailed Efort increasing its shares in Robox up to 49%, was effectively frozen.

The Chinese link. A Chamber of Commerce report seen by Decode39 shows Efort holding 40% of Robox. The Novara-based company has 38 employees and a healthy balance sheet (in 2021, turnover was €7.27 million, up 28% on the previous year, and profits neared €675,000, a 324% year-on-year increase.)

  • Efort Intelligent Equipment, on the other hand, has been listed on the Shanghai Technology Exchange since 2020. A 2021 analysis by Datenna concluded that the Chinese state exerts a “high” level of influence over the company, and its production of robotic components is “aligned with the industrial development priorities defined in the Made In China 2025 project.”
  • That’s the programme through which the Chinese Communist Party aims to achieve global dominance in high-tech manufacturing.

Mapping Efort’s Italian properties. Over the past years, the company has bought other Italian companies. In 2015 it acquired CMA Robotics, another robotics company based in Pavia di Udine. In 2016 it was the turn of OLCI, a Turin-based market leader in the development, design and manufacture of production systems for the automotive sector, and Evolut, another robotics company in the Brescia area.

  • Finally, in 2017 it turned to the newly-founded WFC Holding. Today, under the Efort WFC Holding brand, it manages and coordinates both OLCI and CMA Robotics.

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