By Sanjeeb Baruah and Shweta Aggarwal
Unveiling his big-picture vision of India-Italy relations following the November 6 digital summit, Italy’s Ambassador to India Vincenzo de Luca has called for rebalancing relations between Italy and China and pitched for greater cooperation with India in the Indo-Pacific and connectivity projects.
Assuaging some of the concerns about China’s activities in Europe after the eruption of the coronavirus pandemic, the Italian envoy clarified that there’s more clarity today in the European Union (EU) regarding the question of rebalancing China-Europe trade relations as the “European access to the Chinese market is more limited” than vice-versa.
The Italian envoy was speaking at an international webinar entitled,” India-Italy Connect: The Road Ahead,” which was organized by India Writes Network and India and the World magazine. The discussion was moderated by Manish Chand, Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief, India Writes Network.
Besides Ambassador Luca, the speakers at the webinar included Sandeep Chakravorty, Joint Secretary (Europe West) in India’s Ministry of External Affairs; Anil Wadhwa, a former Ambassador of India to Italy, Thailand, Poland, and Oman; Stefania Benaglia, an expert on EU foreign and security policy; and Stefano Pelle, a former CEO of Ferrero India.
“What we see is a new energy and synergy in bilateral relations. Above all, the India Growth story and Italy’s economic ambitions are intertwining, opening new avenues for cooperation between the two countries,” said Mr Chand, setting the tone for the discussions.
“Italy is not the first trade partner of China in Europe. Let’s be clear about that. We raised the issue of rebalancing trade relations between Europe and China. This is an issue for the European Union. And now I have seen more awareness in European Union vis-a-vis this question of the trade relation between China and Europe,” said the Italian envoy. “We have to rebalance the relation in terms of trade and investment between China and Europe,” he said.
“So, we have to rebalance the relation with China in terms of trade and investment and between China and Europe. We also should have a shared vision with India on the question of connectivity in the Indo-Pacific region, and this vision should be based on a level-playing field, transparency, and rules-based,” Mr Luca said.
Last year, Italy became the first G7 country to sign the China-initiated Belt and Road Initiative.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=W6LaCk2ZIQ8At the same time, the Italian ambassador emphasized that China remains an important part in all the multilateral institutions and hence the world should continue to engage China. “We have to engage the Chinese in a new role of the WHO or the United Nations. I don’t see the bilateral relation between Italy and China is a part of a relationship between the EU and China,” he said.
“An EU-India free trade deal would not only be an economic tool but also a geo-economic tool, which sits well in the context of the Indio-pacific,” said Benaglia, Associate Researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). In her remarks, she also highlighted the problems faced by the liberal world where the growing opposing views appeared to have challenged the rules-based multilateral order. “The way the democracies will behave and shape the multilateral order will be the basis of our future engagements,” she noted.
Raising the Bar
In an illuminating discussion on the current India-Italy relations, the Italian envoy underscored the huge potential the two countries hold for cooperation in diverse areas, from manufacturing, automotive, to dual-purpose technologies.
“We want to become an important technology partner of India. Italy is the second manufacturing country in Europe after Germany,” said the envoy.
“Europe can develop dual technologies with India, not with China, because with China, we have a sanction system on all the military industry. And you perfectly know that high technology also sometimes spill over into military and defence industry. That’s why we insist to have a major role of Italy in the defence industry sector here in India. Aerospace, space, advanced manufacturing, robotics are all sectors that are interconnected with the defence industry,” he said.
Growing Economic Synergies
Mapping the road ahead, Sandeep Chakravorty, joint secretary in charge of western Europe in India’s Ministry of External Affairs, underlined that India will be intensifying cooperation with Italy in several areas, including “diversification of supply chains,” and pitched for attracting more Italian companies to invest in India. “Italy is one of the major industrial manufacturing countries in the world. Sometimes it gets overshadowed by some other players, but you go to any business environment, you will find machines Made in Italy.”
“Italy is a design powerhouse, it is an industrial powerhouse, it is a technology powerhouse, it is very strong in renewables, it is very strong in waste to wealth conversion. And I think we are all looking at bringing these companies, these industries into India and tying up with Indian partners,” he said.
In a similar vein, Anil Wadhwa, India’s former ambassador to Italy, said: “Italian companies will have to take into account the recent steps that have been taken by India to make it an attractive hub for manufacturing. The Indian government has reduced the corporate tax rate to 25 percent and rolled out production-linked incentives for the manufacturers,” he said.
These production-linked incentives were extended to 10 more sectors on November 10 after initially rolling out to the electronics and pharmaceutical companies, he added.
“Italy can be an ideal partner for India in the circular economy; in waste to energy solutions, pollution mitigating technologies, and automation,” said Mr Wadhwa.
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