Modi, Italian PM meet to breathe fresh life into strained ties

Modi, Italian PM meet to breathe fresh life into strained ties

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Italian counterpart Paolo Gentiloni met here on Monday to breathe fresh life into India-Italy relations, strained since 2012 over the killing of two Kerala fishermen by its navy personnel.

The Italian prime minister was accorded a ceremonial welcome at the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan earlier in the day. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also called on him.

Gentiloni arrived in New Delhi on Sunday, ending a long hiatus in exchange of high-level visits between the two nations.

Romano Prodi's visit to India in February 2007 was the last by an Italian prime minister.

The then prime minister Manmohan Singh visited Italy to attend the G8 and G5 Summits in July 2009.

New Delhi hopes the visit will give a fillip to bilateral economic relations.

Some Memorandums of Agreements are likely to be inked after the meeting between the two prime ministers. A joint statement is also likely to be issued.

Italy is India's fifth largest trading partner in the European Union with a bilateral trade at $ 8.79 billion in 2016-17.

India's exports to Italy are worth $ 4.90 billion, while its imports are $ 3.89 billion, resulting in a trade balance of $ 1 billion in favour of India.

The bilateral trade has reached $ 3.22 billion in the first four months of fiscal 2017-18. The two prime ministers will also discuss ways to boost bilateral trade and investment.

A 15-member delegation of CEOs of Italy's leading companies is accompanying Gentiloni. They interacted with the CEOs of the leading companies in India.

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

A number of Indian companies are also present in Italy, mainly in IT, electronics, engineering, automotive, pharmaceuticals and railways.

Italy is the 13th largest investor in India with cumulative investments worth $ 2.41 billion over the period from April 2000 to June 2017.

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

Enrica Lexie case

On February 15, 2012, two Italian navy personnel - Massimilano Latorre and Salvatore Girone - fired at a fishing vessel off the Kerala coast from oil tanker MV Enrica Lexie.

In the firing, two Indian fishermen were killed. Latorre and Girone were later arrested and put on trial.

Italy questioned India's jurisdiction, claiming that the incident took place in international waters.

In June 2015, Rome finally moved the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague against New Delhi under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The impasse in India-Italy ties ended when the international arbitration tribunal in May 2016 asked New Delhi and Rome to approach the Supreme Court to allow Girone, who was already on bail and was staying in Embassy of Italy in New Delhi, to go home.

Latorre is in Italy since September 2014 after the Supreme Court allowed him to go to his country for a surgery.

Gentiloni is visiting New Delhi at a time when the process to restart the arbitration proceedings in The Hague is on.

On April 14, India submitted its written plea to the international arbitration tribunal countering the plea Italy submitted on September 30, 2016.

Italy also submitted this year a counter-memorial to India's objection to the jurisdiction of the UNCLOS and the arbitration tribunal over the case and a response to a claim by India.

The tribunal asked India to submit a rejoinder to Italy's counter-memorial by December 15. Italy was also asked to submit a rejoinder to India's reply by February 16.

The international arbitration tribunal is likely to start hearing the case in April or May and an award is expected in late 2018.

 

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