New Delhi: Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni is set to hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, opening a new chapter in bilateral relations during the first prime ministerial visit from Italy to India in a decade. The visit marks the end of a chill in ties that set in 2012 after the killing of two Indian fishermen by a pair of Italian marines off the coast of Kerala.
Gentiloni arrived in New Delhi on Sunday, accompanied by a 15-member delegation of Italian businessmen. Italy is India’s fifth largest trading partner in the European Union (EU) with a bilateral trade of $8.79 billion in 2016-17, according to Indian figures. There are more than 600 Italian companies with offices in India in areas ranging from fashion to textiles and textile machinery, auto components, energy and insurance. Italy also has a sizeable population of expatriate Indians numbering almost 200,000.
“The visit is aimed at strengthening the bilateral political and economic relations between the two countries,” Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar told reporters on Friday.
The strain in bilateral India-Italy ties—caused by the arrest of the two Italian marines—had spilled over on relations between India and the EU, India’s largest trading partner and a key source of investment. India-Italy ties ran aground after the two marines, Latorre Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone, were arrested on charges of killing Indian fishermen, mistaking them to be pirates.
Italy contested India’s charge that the ship that the marines were on—the Enrica Lexie—was in Indian waters at the time of the shooting. The Italian government was of the view that since the ship was in international waters, only the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea could apply, questioning the Indian government’s jurisdiction over the case. According to Italian authorities, the marines, who were on official duty, also had diplomatic immunity. India, on its part, rejected the Italian position in the case.
Ties started looking up after the two marines were allowed to return home. Latorre was allowed by India’s Supreme Court to return to Italy in September 2014 on health grounds, while Girone was allowed to go in May 2016.