Saturday, January 22, 2022

Expanding Vistas Of Engagement Between India And Italy

Establishing bilateral relations with European countries have been one of India’s foreign policy goals that have given fruitful results. In the recent past, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has held bilateral summits with several European countries like Denmark, Finland and France among others which have helped to expand India’s engagement with European powers in the backdrop of a world where rebalancing relations is the constant need. A virtual summit was held between PM Modi and his Italian counterpart Prof. Giuseppe Conte on 6th November 2020. The Summit provided an opportunity to comprehensively review the broad framework of the bilateral relationship and lay the path for future mutual collaboration.

In his opening remarks at the virtual bilateral summit with the Italian leader, PM Modi lauded Italy’s efforts on dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, reassured that all help will be provided in combating the disease and also discussed ways to deal with the adverse consequences of the pandemic. The leaders pledged to work on development oriented global agenda for their respective Presidencies of the G20 in order to address the impact of and the response to Covid-19 in all the relevant domains. Altogether, 15 MoUs/Agreements in various sectors such as investment, scientific and technological cooperation, energy, plastic recycling, fisheries, shipbuilding, design, restoration and protection of monuments etc. were signed during the Summit.

Interestingly, the Joint statement and the Plan of Action 2020-2024 released after the summit saw both sides emphasizing on the importance of the Indo-Pacific region as a fundamental area for connectivity initiatives based on inclusive global governance and a free and fair rules-based international order. It must be remembered here that France and Germany had come out with their individual strategies on cooperation in the Indo-Pacific just recently and Italy’s keenness on cooperation in the Indo-Pacific realm opens up several opportunities for India to bolster cooperation with European countries while pursuing the goal of regional unity.

In the virtual summit, India and Italy underscored the need to further expand engagement on a number of other areas like defence, counter terrorism and security, multilateralism, student exchanges, culture festivals, tourism and people-to-people connectivity. PM Modi and PM Conte highlighted the need for greater two-way collaboration and technology cooperation, co-development and co-production, by expediting discussions through the Joint Defence Committee and Military Cooperation Group. On regional and international issues, both sides agreed to coordinate closely at multilateral fora, especially G-20 and towards implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Paris Agreement. India welcomed Italy’s decision to join International Solar Alliance as soon as the ratification process is completed.

While expressing satisfaction at the steady growth of political exchanges and policy coordination at all levels, the two sides however underlined the need to focus on their level of economic cooperation. The volume of bilateral trade was only 9.52 billion Euros in 2019, though around 600 large Italian companies covering a range of sectors such as fashion and garments, textiles and textile machinery, automotive components, infrastructure, chemicals, energy, confectionery and insurance are currently active in India. One of the key positive points of the virtual summit was that Italy expressed its interests to diversify its supply chains & investment to have a more substantive and meaningful economic partnership with India. In fact, bilateral economic cooperation in the summit was focused on diversification of supply chains, which is the need of the hour in a Covid-infected world. In this regard, the two leaders agreed to promote innovative financial schemes capable of supporting bilateral investments.

While stressing on the need for India and the EU to actively re-engage towards an early resumption of negotiations for mutually beneficial India-EU Trade and Investment Agreements, the leaders of India and Italy adopted an Action Plan to set up priorities, strategic goals and mechanisms of a bilateral partnership for the period 2020-2025.

Script: DR. Sanghamitra Sarma, Strategic Analyst on European Affairs

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