Virtual summit: India, Italy to ink trade, investment agreements

India and Italy are set to sign about a dozen agreements in areas ranging from trade and investment to infrastructure when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Italian counterpart Giuseppe Conte hold a virtual summit on Friday.

The meeting, the latest in a string of virtual engagements by Modi after his successful summits with Australia and the European Union (EU), is part of New Delhi’s enhanced focus on Europe against the backdrop of a global rebalancing in the post-Covid-19 scenario. Leading EU players, such as Germany and France, have also signalled a greater interest in the Indo-Pacific region.

People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that around a dozen agreements and MoUs covering areas such as trade, investment, infrastructure, environment, fisheries, media and filmmaking, are expected to be signed at the summit.

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The two sides will explore the possibility of increasing Italian investments in India and enhancing defence cooperation and manufacturing under the Make in India initiative, the people said.

Both countries are keen to firmly put behind the 2012 killing of two Indian crew members of a fishing boat off the coast of Kerala by Italian marines guarding an oil tanker Enrica Lexie, an incident that took bilateral ties to an all-time low.

“Barring the brief hiatus caused by Enrica Lexie incident for some time, the two countries have always enjoyed a cordial relationship since they established political ties in 1947,” said one of the people cited above.

Referring to a UN arbitral tribunal’s ruling this year that the Italian marines are entitled to immunity in relation to their acts, the person said, “Following the arbitral tribunal’s verdict, Italy wants to build robust economic relations on the foundation of the political relationship.”

India sees Italy, the third largest EU economy after Brexit with robust manufacturing, technological and design capabilities, as a strong partner for the Make in India and Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) initiatives.

From January, India will also join the G20 troika along with Italy and Saudi Arabia. India and Italy will be part of the troika for 2021 and 2022, when New Delhi will take over as the G20 chair.

Italy is currently India’s fifth largest trading partner in the EU, and bilateral trade was worth 9.52 billion Euros in 2019. India, however, ranks 16th as country of origin for Italian imports, and experts believe there is potential for considerable growth.

About 600 large Italian companies are active in India, while some 4,000 Indian students and 250,000 workers, mainly in the agricultural sector, are in Italy.

Italy has traditionally been supportive towards India at multilateral forums, and the two countries are currently working towards a roadmap for a more substantive engagement, including a migration mobility partnership agreement, the people said.

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