India-Italy Ties On The Upswing

In the backdrop of 70 years of diplomatic relations between India and Italy, with the theme ‘Celebrating the Future’; the visit of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to New Delhi within five months of assuming office showcases the significance attached to this relation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr. Conte delivered the valedictory address at the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Confederation of Indian Industry’s (CII) annual Technology Summit. With Italy being the partner country at the 24th Technology Summit, this visit came as an important step in renewing and strengthening India-Italy bilateral relations that had taken a backseat due to the Italian Marines case. The thaw in the relations began last year with the visit after a decade of the then Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. The current visit augurs well for enhancing the bilateral engagement.

The core of the visit was aimed at building business, enhancing trade and defence ties; Italy wants to contribute to the “Make in India” campaign that will create a win-win equation for both sides. Trade with Italy is important for India as it is the 5th largest trading partner within the European Union and the bilateral trade in 2017-18 stood at US $ 10.4 billion. “Technology Summit offers invaluable platform to forge knowledge partnerships”, said Union Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan at the inauguration of the DST- CII Summit that focussed on seven key areas – Cleantech, Renewables, ICT, Healthcare, Aerospace, Education and Cultural Heritage. The Italian side was represented by Farnesina – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation; the Ministry of Economic Development; the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (MIUR); the Italian Trade Agency (ITA) and Confindustria.

As members in the G20, there is a strong impulse of economic cooperation between both countries. The presence of 60 Italian companies for the DST-CII Summit sought to strengthen industrial and scientific links between companies with focus on innovation and technology and to building new collaborations.Summing up the partnership between the two countries in a catch-phrase “From Hampi to Pompeii”, Prof. Sharma, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology indicated that technologies for the restoration and preservation of cultural heritage were an area where Italy and India could do a lot of useful work together.

The Ministry of External Affairs said that the visit of the Italian Prime Minister will help to underscore these synergies and give an added boost to future collaboration. This is borne out by the fact that there is a strong political push on both sides to move ahead. In a written interview to an Indian magazine, Prime Minister Conte supported regular migration to Italy and Europe as net contributors to growth and the need to engage with Russia. Both issues are also politically, economically and strategically important for New Delhi. He further indicated that “Our common goal is to become strategic partners in order to face together challenges such as environmental sustainability and energy supply”.

Intensifying the political-security engagement, a Counter Terrorism working group has been set up. In addition, both leaders called upon all UN members to effectively implement the UN-Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, UNSC Resolution 1267 and other relevant UNSC resolutions relating to the prevention and suppression of terrorism and terrorist financing.  The reactivation of the Joint Defence Committee is a positive sign. Although some recent defence deals have come into scrutiny in Italy and India, both sides agreed to develop “enduring and mutually beneficial” defence cooperation.

Prime Minister Conte reiterated Italy’s support for India’s intensified engagement with the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The two leaders also endorsed their commitment to the full and swift implementation of the Paris Agreement, to set up an institutional framework for dialogue to enhance business and economic cooperation, identified sectoral cooperation, the creation of a vocational training hub in Mumbai and emphasised that “connectivity initiatives be based on internationally recognised norms and standards”.

Script: Prof. Ummu Salma Bava, Chairperson And Jean Monnet Chair, Centre For European Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University