New Delhi: Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni arrived here on Sunday on a two-day state visit to India, the first such visit in a decade, in a bid to boost ties between New Delhi and Rome after the faceoff over 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 ahead of Gentiloni’s visit.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold delegation-level talks with Gentiloni on Monday following which a number of agreements are expected to be signed.
Gentiloni will also call on President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice President Venkaiah Naidu during his visit.
Diplomatic ties between India and Italy virtually came to a near freeze following the February 2012 firing by two Italian marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, from M.V. Enrica Lexie, killing two Indian fishermen off Kerala.
India took the marines into custody though Italy claimed the ship was in international waters and the case should be handled by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Seas (Itlos) at The Hague.
In September 2014 Latorre was allowed to return to Italy on health grounds following a Supreme Court order. In May 2016, Girone too was allowed to return. Both the marines are now in Italy awaiting an order from the Itlos.
The stand-off between New Delhi and Rome affected the talks for a free trade pact between the European Union and India.
Indo-Italian ties got a breather when External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited the Vatican in September last year for the canonisation of Mother Teresa.
According to official figures, Italy is among India’s five largest trading partners in the EU, with bilateral trade at $8.79 billion in 2016-17.
India’s exports to Italy total $4.90 billion and imports $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.
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.
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, confectionery and insurance.