The India-Italy digital Summit held earlier this month on 6 November 2020 has virtually gone unnoticed amidst the news of the U.S. elections globally, and the Bihar state elections at home. But it is significant, in light of the pandemic, and Italy’s upcoming presidency of the G20.
The India-Italy partnership has started to blossom since Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte took office in June 2018. Under his initiative, the mess of the Italian marine’s issue, which almost sank the India-Italy relationship, has been closed and the relationship is now revitalized. Conte visited India in October 2018, during his first visit to Asia, to attend the Technology Summit organised by Ministries and Chambers from both sides. That brought IOT, green technology, health care, aerospace into the bilateral discussion.
It was necessary. The economic partnership with Italy needs a boost. The Indo-Italian joint Plan of Action 2020-24 focuses on this. Collaboration with SMEs, with the financial, food processing and manufacturing sectors supporting Make in India and Assembled in India for the World, are all areas of Italian strength.
Under the action plan, the Joint Committee on Economic Cooperation (JCEC) will begin to look for further opportunities starting 2021 with the help of the Fast Track Mechanism set up the government of India in 2019 for resolving issues of investment for either side So far, about 400 Italian companies have invested $4.45 billion in India. That’s 9% of the total European FDI in India. But India’s share in Italian trade is low, at just over 1 %.
New energy is being infused into the bilateral, especially in three areas – investment, defence and strategic multilateral cooperation. In investment, for example, innovative financial schemes capable of supporting bilateral investments are being encouraged thorough the MoU between Cassa Depositi Prestiti (CDP) the Italian investment Bank managing postal savings and India’s National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF) signed on November 6 for mutual investments. Both governments support an early India EU Trade and Investment Agreement, already well-documented. The role of former Italian PM and now EU Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, could be useful in promoting this trade agreement.
The defence partnership is seeing new sparks, after the Augusta Westland setback. It already has depth, and cooperation is likely to deepen. India’s under-construction air defence ship, akin to an aircraft carrier, was based on a design collaboration with Italy. At the summit, two MOUs between FinCanteiri, Italy’s ship design firm and the Cochin Shipyard for refitting, and joint production of ships have been signed. The Military Cooperation Group and the Defence Committee continue will look at closer collaboration since Italy is a valuable source of spare parts for defence equipment in India, which is otherwise dependent on Russia and the Ukraine. The India-Italy Joint working Group on Counter Terrorism is likely to meet again in 2021. Cooperation on terrorism in multilateral fora like the UN and G20 will increase, given the new resolve expressed at the Summit.
The strategic cooperation with Italy has come a long way from the time when Italy became the first G7 country to accommodate China’s BRI. Now, post-pandemic, although Italy does not have assets in the Indo-Pacific, it is following the lead of its compatriots in assessing the emerging EU Policy in the Indo Pacific.
The Summit also focused on Italy’s upcoming leadership of the G20. Italy will Chair the G20 in 2021, preceding the Indian Chairmanship in 2022. This will draw India and Italy naturally closer, as they will be, starting Jan 1, 2021, part of the troika of G20 presidents for the next two years and can make a significant contribution to a post-pandemic, reformed multilateralism.
The Indian engagement with the EU, has been shallow. But under Modi 2.0, Europe has been given higher priority. As the US elections unfolded, the virtual India-EU Summit took place on 15 July 2020. Following the meeting, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla visited France, Germany and the UK between 29 October and 4 November. The EAM, Dr Jaishanker had a virtual bilateral meeting with Greek FM Nikos Dendias on 29 October 2020. These are considered steps for India to diversify its partnerships and add heft to the European partnership.
India sees the revival of the relationship with Italy as part of its nurturing of its partnership with Europe. “The India-EU Strategic Partnership: Roadmap to 2025” is now enhanced by the specific India-Italy Plan of Action 2020-2024.
The Covid crises is of course the focus of all these discussions. International cooperation for development of vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, essential medical equipment, ensuring affordable treatment for Covid-19, enhancing the supply chain resilience, and supporting global economic recovery have been on the agenda. Italy was initially the worst hit country in Europe, slowly recovered and is now better placed to deal with the second wave. India looks to have a mutually beneficial sharing of experiences and developments to ameliorate the crisis.
The most promising outcome of this energetic diplomacy and summiteering, is that Italy is slowly being weaned away from its close economic embrace with China. Its trade and investment are unlikely to decouple soon, but Italy is now more in line with the EU initiatives on 5G and quality infrastructure. Italy told its largest company to refrain from engaging with Huawei for 5G. Italy is trying to align with EU members on the Huawei 5G issue. The liberal assistance of $ 47,47 billion ( €40 billion) it will receive from the $890 billion (€750 billion) Next Generation EU special fund has helped Italy stand firm.
The India Italy Summit took place at this important juncture for Italy and India could derive advantage from it.
Gurjit Singh is a former Indian Ambassador to Germany. He is currently the Chair of the CII Task Force on the Asia Africa Growth Corridor and Professor at the IIT, Indore.
This article was exclusively written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.
For interview requests with the author, or for permission to republish, please contact email@example.com.
© Copyright 2020 Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. All rights reserved. Any unauthorized copying or reproduction is strictly prohibited.
 Ministry of External Affairs, ‘India-Italy Virtual Summit’, Government of India, 6 November 2020, https://www.mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/33175/IndiaItaly_Virtual_Summit
 Ministry of Interior Affairs and International Cooperation, ‘The India-Italy Technology Summit 2018 kicks off in New Delhi’, Government of India, 30 October 2018, https://www.esteri.it/mae/en/sala_stampa/archivionotizie/retediplomatica/2018/10/al-via-a-new-delhi-l-india-italy-technology-summit-2018.html
 Wadhwa, Anil, ‘Technology Tie-Ups Dominate Italian Prime Minister Conte’s Visit to India’, Outlook India 1 November 2018, https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/technology-tie-ups-dominate-italian-prime-minister-contes-visit-to-india/319429
 Embassy of Italy in India, ‘Economic cooperation’, https://ambnewdelhi.esteri.it/ambasciata_newdelhi/en/i_rapporti_bilaterali/cooperazione_economica
 Embassy of India Rome, ‘Trade and Economic Relations’,
 Vice Adm (Retd) GM Hiranandani, ‘Making of Indigenous Aircraft Carrier’, Indian Defence Review, 25 February 2019,
 Ministry of external Affairs, ‘List of MoUs signed coinciding with the India-Italy Virtual Summit’, Government of India, 6 November 2020
 Ministry of External Affairs, ‘India-Italy Joint Statement and Plan of Action 2020-2024′, Government of India, 6 November 2020
 Ministry of External Affairs, ‘Visit of Foreign Secretary to Europe’, Government of India, 28 October 2020, https://www.mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/33147/Visit_of_Foreign_Secretary_to_Europe
 Ministry of External Affairs, ‘Virtual Meeting between EAM and Greek Foreign Minister’, Government of India, 29 October 2020, https://www.mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/33154/Virtual_Meeting_between_EAM_and_Greek_Foreign_Minister
 Ministry of External Affairs, ‘Transcript of Virtual Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson (29 October 2020)’, Government of India, 29 October 2020, https://www.mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/33167/Transcript_of_Virtual_Weekly_Media_Briefing_by_the_Official_Spokesperson_29_October_2020
 Fonte, Giuseppe; Pollina, Elvira, ‘Italy vetoes 5G deal between Fastweb and China’s Huawei’, Reuters, 23 October 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-huawei-italy-5g-idUSKBN2782A5
 Baldock, Harry, ‘Italy inches closer to Huawei ban with veto over Fastweb deal’, Total Telecom, 26 October 2020, https://www.totaltele.com/507646/Italy-inches-closer-to-Huawei-ban-with-veto-over-Fastweb-deal
 ‘Europe’s moment: Repair and prepare for the next generation’, European Commission, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_940