India and Italy on Friday signed 15 agreements covering trade and investment, shipbuilding and energy, and unveiled a broad-ranging action plan to enhance their partnership by cooperating on connectivity, climate change and counter-terrorism.
The signing of the agreements coincided with an hour-long virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Italian counterpart Giuseppe Conte, during which the leaders pledged to work jointly on common challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
The two sides are keen to take their economic partnership to the next level in new areas such as green technology, renewable energy and advanced manufacturing, officials said. “The focus was on economic ties and Italy is very keen to diversify its supply chains and its outgoing investments, [and] to have a more substantive economic partnership with India,” said Sandeep Chakravorty, secretary (Europe West) in the external affairs ministry.
Both countries agreed to work closely on concluding a migration and mobility partnership agreement and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on defence cooperation at the earliest, Chakravorty said. The mobility pact is crucial for India’s plans to enhance access for its skilled professionals in European countries.
The much-delayed India-European Union (EU) free trade agreement figured in the meeting, officials said. A joint statement issued after the meeting said PM Modi and Conte stressed 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”.
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Among the 15 agreements signed on Friday was an MoU between Italy’s Cassa Depositi e Prestiti SpA and India’s National Investment and Infrastructure Fund to promote co-financing, two MoUs between Fincantieri and Cochin Shipyard Limited covering design, shipbuilding and manufacturing, and repairs and refits of ships, two cooperation agreements between Snam and Adani Entreprises to promote energy transition and to set up a CNG compressors factory in India, and an MoU between Snam and Indian Oil Corporation to cooperate on gas infrastructure development.
The 2020-24 action plan for an enhanced bilateral partnership is based on four pillars – political dialogue at the bilateral level and coordination in multilateral forums, economic engagement, partnership in science and technology, and cultural cooperation and people-to-people exchanges. The two sides will create a mechanism chaired by the foreign ministers to follow up the action plan yearly.
PM Modi and Conte, the joint statement said, condemned all forms of terrorism and backed a comprehensive approach to prevent and combat terrorism. They agreed to enhance the exchange of expertise and capacity building to counter-terrorism.
They also emphasised the need to expand defence engagement through greater two-way collaboration and technology cooperation, and co-development and co-production of military hardware. They also agreed to consolidate defence ties to enhance the effectiveness of UN peacekeeping activities.
The joint statement said PM Modi and Conte stressed the importance of the Indo-Pacific as a “fundamental area for connecting Asia and Europe”, and said both sides will “support all connectivity initiatives based on internationally recognised norms and standards, good governance, rule of law, inclusiveness, transparency and level playing field”.
The meeting, the latest in a string of virtual engagements by PM Modi after his successful summits with Australia and the EU, was 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.
Both countries are keen to 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 a person who declined to be named.
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.
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.