NE DELHI: India and Italy today inked six pacts to boost cooperation in key sectors, including energy and trade, after detailed talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Italian counterpart Paolo Gentiloni on ways to strengthen bilateral ties and countering terrorism.
In a first visit by an Italian prime minister in ten years, Gentiloni arrived here last night on a two-day state trip, aimed at deepening political and economic relationship, which had suffered a major blow due to Italian marines case.
India and Italy were engaged in a bitter diplomatic and legal row after two Italian marines, Latorre Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone, on board a ship named Enrica Lexie, were arrested for allegedly killing two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala in 2012. Italy moved the international court in the Hague, questioning India's jurisdiction over the case.
The two marines are now in Italy, pending the verdict by the arbitration court at the Hague. The diplomatic row also impacted the European Union's relationship with India.
Asked if the issue figured in today's meeting, officials said there was an attempt to take the relationship "forward" in today's meeting between the two sides and not allow any one issue to hold the bilateral ties hostage.
There will be important issues between the two countries, and they will be handled at different levels, they added.
Modi and Gentiloni also called on all countries to work towards rooting out terrorist safe havens, their infrastructure and networks and halting cross-border movement of terrorists, a joint statement issued after the meeting said, in a veiled reference to Pakistan.
Addressing a joint media event with Gentiloni, Modi said they discussed wide-ranging issues, including the challenges posed by terrorism and cyber crimes, while agreeing to enhance cooperation to counter them.
Modi also noted that there was a huge potential for enhancing India-Italy trade ties.
"India and Italy are two large economies, and the respective strengths of our economies provide us ample opportunities to strengthen our commercial cooperation. There is a lot of potential for our bilateral trade of about USD 8.8 billion to grow much further," he said.
Modi also stressed that there was a lot of scope for Italian companies to participate in the flagship programmes of the government such as Smart Cities and cooperate in areas like food processing, pharma and infrastructure.
After the Modi-Gentiloni meeting, the two sides signed six pacts to deepen cooperation in the fields of railways sector safety, energy and promoting mutual investments, among others.
On his part, Gentiloni said good relations between the two nations provide major opportunities for companies and scientific cooperation. Italy, he said, looks with great interest at India with regard to investment.
Italy is India's fifth largest trading partner in the EU with a bilateral trade of USD 8.79 billion in 2016-17, as per official figures.
India's exports to Italy were at USD 4.90 billion, while its imports were at USD 3.89 billion, resulting in a trade imbalance of about USD 1 billion in favour of India. In the first four months of fiscal 2017-18, bilateral trade has reached USD 3.22 billion.
"In addition to bilateral issues, we also exchanged views on regional and global issues. In today's world, we face new challenges and threats every day," Modi said.
"We discussed in detail some of the emerging security challenges facing the world. We are both committed to fight terrorism in all its forms, and to strengthen our cooperation in cyber security," he said.
The two sides agreed to strengthen the consultation mechanism through regular exchange of assessments and information, training and capacity building programmes in the sphere of counter terrorism.
The leaders also resolved to enhance cooperation to take "decisive and concerted actions" against terror groups such as the al-Qaeda and the ISIS, the joint statement said.
Noting that Italy has been a partner in the field of science and technology, Modi said both countries were keen to boost cooperation in this sector.
Earlier, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj called on Gentiloni and discussed issues of mutual interest, ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.
The two sides also released a logo to commemorate the 70 years of relations between the two countries. India and Italy will complete 70 years of diplomatic ties in March next year.
The Italian prime minister termed it as a relaunching of ties between the two nations.