India and Italy are strengthening their ties putting behind all the controversies. In March, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni visited India and the two countries elevated their relations to a strategic partnership. Italian navy’s patrol vessel visit to Mumbai last week builds on the momentum, Italy’s ambassador Vincenzo de Luca tells businessline.
India and Italy signed a defence co-operation MOU in March. PM Narendra Modi also invited Italian defence companies to Make in India. What is the progress so far?
The first step was the visit of the Italian patrol vessel, Morosoni. Along with the ship, we also had representatives of the biggest Italian defence industry companies - Leonardo, Fincantieri, and Elettronica, visiting Mumbai. With the elevation of our relationship to a strategic partnership, we would like to collaborate with India in the defence, cyber security, and space sectors. This year, we also took advantage of India’s G20 presidency to have bilateral meetings between Ministers of agriculture and energy transition. Now, there will be one on culture. So really, there has been an intensification of visits, initiatives, and projects between India and Italy.
China is among top ten trading partners of Italy. India’s ranking is far below. Do you see greater prospects for trade with India as Italy resets its ties with China.
Of course, China is an important partner but India is a growing destination for Italian and European investments. In 2022, India-Italy bilateral trade crossed €15 billion. This is higher than the pre-pandemic figure of €9 billion. I expect a further increase in bilateral trade in the coming years. India has among the highest growth rates in the world. Italy has seen recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic. India has the ambition to become the global manufacturing platform. Italy would like to partner India in its ambitions.
Visa delays has been a big issue for Europe. How are you trying to reduce the wait time?
We are in the same situation as other Schengen partners. We are receiving an enormous number of visa applications and are trying to speed up the process. There has been a 38 per cent increase in visa issuance in the first seven months of 2023 compared to 2022. The processing time for business and tourist visas is 48 hours after receiving the application. Of course, the issue is securing appointments with VFS and we are working to reduce wait time.
How is Italy increasing access for Indian professionals?
We have the largest community of Indian citizens in the European Union with 2,10,000 persons mainly in the agro-industry. We have increased the number of work permits for Indians to 15,000 last year. This year, we expect an even higher number of permits. We are also seeing an increase in number of Indian students in Italy. This year, we have issued about 5,000 student visas in India. We are negotiating a mobility agreement with India and hopefully, it will be finalised by the end of the year. The agreement will create opportunities for Indian health professionals and nurses to work in Italy.
India and European Union are negotiating a free trade agreement. What is Italy’s position on this?
It is not easy. It takes time to address all the issues but negotiators are working hard to make progress. We have to see that efforts are successful. Italy is supporting this process. The free trade agreement will be a game changer because Europe is the most important trading bloc, and India is the most populous country in the world.