By: RANJIT KUMAR, Senior Journalist
After the late October 2018 India-Italy Summit in New Delhi, during which the Italian Prime Minister visited India, the bilateral relations are on the upswing. The latest visit of Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar this week to Matera in Italy, to attend the meeting of the foreign and development ministers of G-20 group, has further raised the banner of bilateral relations. Italy has a special place in India’s foreign policy as a major European economic power. Italy is also the eighth largest economy in the world.
It is significant that Italy has chosen India among the five priority countries, for strengthening all-round relations. Italy which is a member of the 27 nation European Union, the influential G-20, and the powerful G-7, besides NATO and OECD, commands special respect in the Indian diplomatic circles. No wonder, the Indian External Affairs Minister chose to visit the country despite the ravaging corona epidemic. Italy has played a major role in reviving and intensifying the India-EU partnership in the trade and economic arena.
Besides economy and trade, the two countries have also decided to strengthen defence cooperation by increased defence exchanges through greater two-way collaboration and technology cooperation, co-development, and co-production. Both countries have already set up a joint defence committee to promote this.
In fact, the November 2020 virtual Summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resulted in a Joint Declaration and Plan of Action to prioritize areas of cooperation and strategic goals for the five-year period till 2025. Being the fifth largest trade partner in the EU, India is home to more than 600 Italian companies. Italy also hosts over 1,80,000 overseas Indians.
The two countries are now focussing on advanced manufacturing, machine tools, metallurgy, automotive industry, energy transition, infrastructure, railways, food processing, and Information technology. Both India and Italy helped each other during the initial wave of the Corona pandemic in early 2020 and during the second wave when Italy supplied oxygen cylinders to India.
Dr. Jaishankar had earlier visited Rome in mid-2019 when he took part in the fifth Mediterranean Dialogues, during which more than 40 world leaders participated. Dr. Jaishankar’s participation in this year’s G-20 Foreign Ministers meeting is significant in view of the forthcoming October G-20 Summit to be hosted by Italy and also the scheduled G-20 Summit to be hosted for the first time by India next year. In view of this year’s G-20 summit in Italy and next year’s G-20 summit in India, leaders of the two countries harmonized Italy’s and India’s respective agendas.
During the bilateral interaction with the Italian Foreign Minister, Dr. Jaishankar discussed progress in implementation of the Action Plan agreed last year during the virtual bilateral Summit of the two Prime Ministers, besides the pending migration- mobility agreement. Both Ministers have also discussed innovation and energy-specific cooperation.
In view of the European Union’s positive assessment of the emerging Indo-Pacific construct, India and Italy can cooperate in resilient supply chains and infrastructure projects in third countries. It is significant that Italy has already organized a trilateral India Italy and Japan meet on promoting cooperation under the banner of Indo-Pacific. Italy and India agreed on supporting all connectivity issues based on international norms and standards, good governance, rule of law, inclusiveness, transparency, and a level playing field.
In the Plan of Action finalized during last year’s virtual Summit, Italy agreed with India on the importance of the Indo-Pacific region as a fundamental area for connecting Asia and Europe. It is expected that India and Italy can be major partners in implementing connectivity projects under the Indo-Pacific. Thus Indo-Pacific is going to be the new focus of India-Italy bilateral cooperation projects.
Besides joining hands-on at multilateral forums, the two ancient civilizations have already worked out an ambitious agenda to strengthen people-to-people contacts through cultural festivals in the present year in Italy and the next year in India; besides plans to strengthen the opportunity for tourism, culture, and educational collaboration. Youth and student exchanges are also to be promoted between Universities and higher education institutions.