Medieval Italian market goes online

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ROME--The centuries old Mantua market in northern Italy is joining with Europe's oldest bank group to develop what will be Italy's first-ever virtual agricultural commodity exchange.

Mantua, which started in the early 16th century as a meeting place for farmers to buy feed and equipment and sell livestock and produce, is joining the Lombard Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Mantovana Agricultural Bank, better known as BAM, to develop the exchange. BAM is part of the Monte dei Paschi group, which traces its roots back to 1472 -- making it the oldest bank group on the continent.

The partners plan to invest a reported $2.5 million to start operations before mid-year. There are also plans for a futures exchange to start operating at some point after that.

Currently, Mantua operates as an open-air commodities market, where farmers and wholesalers meet to buy and sell products and to make contacts. It is the country's largest market for pig meat and among the top markets for beef products and live cattle, cereals and grains and finished products, including cheeses and wines native to the region.

"This new plan will help lift the market in status and visibility," says a Chamber of Commerce spokesman. "It will be one aspect in which Mantua will stand apart from other regional agricultural markets andexchanges, and it will allow people in other parts of Italy and Europe to become involved in Mantua's activities. We expect others to follow our lead."

BAM will provide the financial services required for online trading and will provide the bulk of the startup capital, according to newspaper reports.

Copyright March 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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