India and Italy are ancient civilizations but young states (Italy having been reunified only in 1861). The classical languages, Sanskrit and Latin both belong to the Indo-European language family.
Peoples of these two ancient civilizations have known, interacted and traded with each other for over 2000 years. Italian port cities were important trading posts on the spice route.
The Venetian merchant Marco Polo, during his travels to the east, also traveled to India in the 13th century and wrote about his experiences. Niccolò de’ Conti left Venice in 1419 to visit the Middle East, Persia, and India.
Modern-day contacts between the two nations were formed through exchanges between intellectuals from both sides.
Noble Laureate Rabindranath Tagore visited Italy in1926, on the invitation of Carlo Formichi, a Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Rome.
Mahatma Gandhi visited Rome in 1931 on his way back to India from the Round Table Conference held in London.
Leaders of the Indian freedom struggle read the works of the Italian revolutionary Mazzini of the early 19th century, who worked for the Democratic Republic of Italy.
Indian troops, serving with the British Indian Army, were active in Italy during the World War II. These included the Rajputana Rifles and Gurkha Rifles.
The 10th Indian Division took part in the East African Allied campaign against the Italians in Somaliland and Abyssinia.
Italy has supported India’s membership to export control regimes like the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Wassenaar Arrangement, and the Australia Group.
Areas of Cooperation
Political and Strategic Relations
Political relations between India and Italy were established in 1947. India and Italy have completed 70 years of diplomatic ties in March 2018.
There has been a regular exchange of visits at political and official levels between both countries. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte visited India in October 2018 and signed agreements including mutual agreement to counter terrorist financing and state sponsors of terrorism. Also, both countries regularly hold interactions through an institutionalized Senior Officials Dialogue (Foreign Office Consultations), Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation and India- ltaly Technology Summit.
Italy also indicated its support for India’s quest for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group underlined Rome’s support to India’s membership in the global technology export groups.
Economic and Commercial Relations
Italy is India’s fifth largest trading partner in the EU with a bilateral trade of USD 8.79 billion in 2016-17.
India’s exports to Italy were at USD 4.90 billion, while its imports were at USD 3.89 billion, resulting in a trade imbalance of about USD 1 billion in favour of India. There is a lot of potential for our bilateral trade to grow much further.
Main items of Indian exports to Italy are ready-made garments, leather, iron ore, motor vehicles, textiles, chemicals, gems & jewellery. Main items of import from Italy are general and special purpose machinery, machine tools, metallurgical products, and engineering items.
Around 140 large Italian companies are active in India. Some of the major Italian companies that have invested in India are FIAT Auto, Heinz Italia, FIOIA, Italcementi, etc.
Indian companies present in Italy are in sectors such as IT, electronics, pharmaceuticals, automobile, textile and engineering. The prominent Indian companies operating in Italy include Tata, TCS, Wipro, Engineers India Limited, L&T, Mahindra & Mahindra, Ranbaxy, Raymonds, etc.
If India and European Union (EU) sign the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA), trade and investment relations between India and Italy would further improve.
Diaspora and Cultural Relations
The Indian community in Italy (estimated at 2.4 lakhs and 25000 PIOs) is the third largest community of Indians in Europe after the UK and the Netherlands.
According to official Italian data, there are 1.65 lakhs legal Indian migrants year 2020 (As per official data with the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policy: Year 2020) accounting 4.4% of the non-EU citizens and 5th largest foreign community in Italy.
As first generation migrants, majority of them are engaged in economic sectors such as agriculture, dairy farming, leather industry, construction works and service industry.
A significant proportion of the Indian diaspora is concentrated in the northern Italy regions like Lombardia, Piemonte, Veneto and Emilia Romagna regions, Central Italy like Florence, Rome and Southern Italy like Campania, Puglia and Calabria.
The agreement for cultural cooperation was signed in 1976. It was replaced by a new Agreement in July 2004. It includes the Cultural Exchange Program (CEP) between Italy and India which entails exchange of students in language programs as well as other academic courses.
There are around 10 Universities/higher education institutions in Italy with highly qualified faculties which conduct courses in Indian art, history and languages.
In June 2014, Air India, National Carrier of India started connecting Rome and Milan of Italy with New Delhi giving opportunity to both tourists and business people from India and Italy to visit each other country for both tourism and business purposes.
Many of the prominent institutions in Italy teach Hindi and Sanskrit to Italian students. The First international Day of Yoga on June 21st 2015 was celebrated enthusiastically in Italy.
The Embassy of India launched the year-long Festival of India in Italy ‘Srijan’ on 18 Jan 2021.
The festival aims to connect with Italians and present to them an opportunity to experience the richness of India’s architecture, history, literature and languages.
Science & Tech
An Agreement on S&T Co-operation exists since 1978.
The Agreement envisages three yearly action plans under which a maximum of thirty joint research projects can be undertaken.
Some of the prime areas of joint research are Electronics, Biotechnology, Design Engineering Automotive Technologies, Energy, etc.
Defence cooperation has traditionally been an important pillar of India-Italy relations. An MOU on Defence Cooperation was signed in November 1994.
The Indian Army has a historical connection with Italy. The 4th, 8th and 10th Indian Divisions, with more than 50,000 troops, played a significant role in one of the bitterest advances of the allied forces for the liberation of Italy in the Second World War.
Joint Defence Committee was established in 2018 to enhance and encourage a “structured dialogue” between Indian and Italian defence firms.
Italy supported India’s “intensified engagement” with nuclear, missile and dual-use technology and substances-export control regimes like the Wassenaar Arrangement, the Australia Group, and the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) which strengthen global non-proliferation efforts.
Support in anti-terrorism
Italy has supported India in the anti-terrorism front. India has for a very long time globally asked the world to be more proactive and be strict against terrorist organisations especially organisation like the JeM which are based in Pakistan and are responsible for cross terrorism.
Support by Italy in this matter strengthens India’s hands in its global fight against terrorism especially when it comes to Pakistan. Today, terrorism has become a global issue and is not restricted to India only. Acknowledgment of terrorist organisation such as Al Qaida and ISIS calls upon countries to not give safe haven to the terrorist entities.
India is facing terrorist attacks whereas Italy faces influx of refugees from Syria, Yemen, Libya along with other countries in Europe. Thus, there is a rising security concern for Italy also and it is significant when such area is openly discussed.
Italy feels that this concern of cross border terrorism was raised by India for a long time and now it is being realised as a reality.
Horrific terrorist incidences happening in Europe makes one feel that may be Europe is now a little more sensitive to a country like India in matters of anti-terrorism.
Significance of India and Italy’s partnership
Strong manufacturing base – Italy is the eighth largest economyin the world and the third largest in the Eurozone after Germany and France with a GDP of $1.86 trillion. It is also the world’s sixth largest manufacturing nation, dominated by small and medium enterprises clustered in many industrial districts.
Brexit – Half of the stock of Indian investments in the EU is actually in the UK. Indian investors are therefore looking for alternative entry points to access the EU market. Italy represents a perfect opportunity for that.
The geopolitical dynamics between India and Europe – India has tried to open its policy towards Europe, Europe has become more inward looking following Brexit and the rise of the far right parties throughout the region. So India is looking to build a bridge to the EU.
G20 – Italy and India will be holding the consecutive Presidencies (Italy in 2021 and India in 2022) of the G20, one of the world’s main fora for global governance.
Fight against climate change – Italy will co-host the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties, COP26, in 2021, together with the United Kingdom, and India is one of the world’s major responsible stakeholders.
Africa – Both India and Italy are stepping up their engagement in the continent, with the aim of managing migration flow for Italy and fostering developing cooperation for India.
Lower trade – India and Italy have been trade partners since the Roman era, and so it is unfortunate that India has such a low volume of trade and investment.
The Enrica Lexie Case – Where two Indian fishermen were killed by Italian marines in 2012, the event was a big mistake, this tragic fact quickly became politicised.
Italy’s current political instability – Italy is in a very precarious position – with a nationalist, naturalist near fascist on one side and a populist movement on the other.
Italy is the ‘Achilles heel of Europe’having one of the lowest growth rates at 1.5% with high youth unemployment at 30% and increasing debt at a worrying 133% of its GDP.
Enrica Lexie Case
India-ltaly diplomatic ties took a hit after two Italian marines on board a ship named Enrica Lexie, were arrested for allegedly killing two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala in 2012.
Italy claimed the ship was in international waters and that only the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) should apply. It also moved the international court. While Latorre returned to Italy in September 2014 following an order of the Supreme Court issued on health grounds, Girone was allowed to go in May 2016.
The India-ltaly diplomatic row also impacted the European Union’s relationship with India. Also, Italy suffers from major challenges such as economic downturn (high unemployment, low growth rates and increasing debt), inward looking nature, refugee crisis, Brexit repercussions and element of uncertainty about Europe’s future.
India can act as a crucial partner to Italy and Europe in these circumstances.
Both countries should shape the international discourse around priorities that both countries hold dear:
from taking advantage of our economic complementarity to strengthening our partnership based on shared values
on our thriving creating industries
scientific knowledge and technological prowess
from the development of a rules-based international system to the promotion of just trade
inclusive growth and the realisation of the 2030 Agenda.
Supporting an effective multilateral system, which would be the best political accelerator to win our battle against the novel coronavirus and to promote a sustainable, equitable and durable recovery.
Improving trade: the potential of India and Italy as trade partners can be further explored if India and European Union (EU) sign the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) which has been in negotiation for over 11 years without conclusion.
Improving relations between EU and India by the recently adopted EU Strategy for Connectivity in Asia.
Italy has recently joined the International Solar Alliance (ISA) reiterating its commitment to green energy and further development of India-Italy relations.
Italy, which is a member of the EU, may prove to be a valuable partner for India in post-Brexit Europe and a good platform for Indian businesses to operate from.
Promoting ideals like democracy, free commerce, security, and the rule of law, which characterize India and Italy’s foreign behavior, would need collaborative action in both sectors, with implications for planning and policies.