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Ship collision which caused frosty Indo Italian ties is put behind as leaders of both nations meet to take relations forward

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Italian counterpart Paolo Gentiloni met on October 30 to boost ties between the two countries after relations had turned frosty following a face-off over two Italian marines killing two Indian fishermen in 2012.

Gentiloni who arrived on Sunday on a two-day visit, will have a one on one meeting with Modi ahead of talks between the delegations of the two countries at noon. The two leaders will meet the top CEOs of each other’s countries.

Gentiloni’s visit is the first by an Italian PM in 10 years — following strain in ties between New Delhi and Rome over two Italian marines on board the ship Enrica Lexie killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast  five years ago.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will also call on Gentiloni. The Italian PM will call on both President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu.

The strain in India-Italy ties had spillover effect on Delhi’s relationship with European Union, country’s largest trading bloc. Romano Prodi was the last Italian Prime Minister to visit India in February 2007.

Diplomatic ties took a hit after the two Italian marines - Latorre Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone - were arrested on charges of killing two Indian fishermen.

Italy claimed the ship, Enrica Lexie, was in international waters when the incident happened and that only the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea should apply and questioned India’s jurisdiction over the case. Rome also said the marines who were on official duty, enjoyed diplomatic immunity. India argued against all these positions.

While Latorre returned to Italy in September 2014 on health grounds following an order of the Supreme Court, Girone was allowed to go in May 2016. They are now in Italy pending a verdict by the arbitration court at The Hague. Once this contentious issue was sorted out to the satisfaction of both the countries high level visits have started between the two countries.

Prime Minister Gentiloni is accompanied by his wife and a 15-member delegation of Italian CEOs. Italy is India’s fifth largest trading partner in the EU with a bilateral trade of 8.79 billion US Dollars in 2016-17, according to official figures.

India’s exports to Italy are at 4.90 billion US Dollars, while its imports are at 3.89 billion US Dollars, resulting in a trade imbalance of 1 billion US Dollars in favour of India. In the first four months of 2017-18 fiscal, bilateral trade has reached 3.22 billion US dollars. a phenomenal increase over the previous years.

There are over 600 Italian companies in India in various sectors such as fashion, textiles and textile machinery, automotives, auto components, energy and insurance. Italy has the third largest presence of Indian community in Europe with an estimated 1,80,000 people after the UK and the Netherlands.

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