First Italian PM to visit India in 10 years


New Delhi: Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni will make a day-long visit to India on October 30, the first such visit in over a decade, a period that saw bilateral ties touch a low after the arrest of two Italian Marines.

Romano Prodi was the last Italian Prime Minister to visit India in February 2007.

“Coming after a gap of more than a decade, the visit is aimed at strengthening bilateral, political and economic relations between the two countries,” the External Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

Diplomatic ties between India and Italy virtually came to a freeze following the February 2012 incident when two Italian marines, Latorre Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone, on board M.V. Enrica Lexie allegedly shot dead two Indian fishermen off Kerala.

India took the Marines into custody but Italy claimed the ship was in international waters.

After first refusing to hand over the Marines, in September 2014 Latorre was allowed to return to Italy following an apex court order on health grounds.

In May 2016, Girone too was allowed to return. Both the Marines are now in Italy, awaiting an order from the Itlos, where the trial against them will be held.

The standoff between New Delhi and Rome also affected talks for a free trade agreement between the European Union (EU) and India.

Citing figures from the Directorate General of Foreign Trade, Friday’s statement said Italy was India’s fifth largest trading partner in the EU, with bilateral trade at $8.79 billion in 2016-17.

“India’s exports to Italy are at $4.90 billion, while its imports are at $3.89 billion, resulting in a trade balance of $1 billion in favour of India. In the first four months of fiscal 2017-18, bilateral trade has reached $3.22 billion,” it stated.

According to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Italy is the 13th largest investor in India with cumulative investments worth $ 2.41 billion from April 2000 to June 2017.

The top five sectors in India that attract Italian investments are automotive industry, trading, service sector, industrial machinery and food processing industry.

According to the statement, a 15-member Italian CEO delegation will be accompanying Prime Minister Gentiloni and an interaction between the CEOs of the two countries was being planned.

There are over 600 Italian companies active in India covering various sectors such as fashion, garments, textile and textile machinery, automotive, automotive components industry, infrastructure, chemicals, energy, confectionary, and insurance.

There is a 180,000-strong Indian community in Italy, the third largest in the EU after Britain and the Netherlands.