The Ukraine conflict requires the global community to focus on the humanitarian crisis and steps that lead to an immediate ceasefire, Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio has said ahead of his talks with his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar. In an interview to HT, he said Italy will work with India to cope with the situation in Afghanistan, including the risk of a resurgence of terrorist threats. Edited excerpts:
What are the priorities during your engagements in India?
This is my first trip to India as Italian minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to visit such an extraordinary country. On Thursday in Bengaluru, we inaugurated a new consulate general. I also had a very fruitful meeting with the Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai, and discussed how we can further enhance Italy-India cooperation in the state. I visited the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) headquarters and witnessed the strong cooperation in place with the Italian Space Agency.
In Delhi, I will meet foreign minister Jaishankar to move along our political agenda and take stock of progress made after the adoption of the Plan of Action in 2020. We are very satisfied with everything we have accomplished in the last two years: we are perfectly on track on the set targets. I will also meet commerce minister Piyush Goyal. Together we will chair a roundtable with CEOs of Italian and Indian companies to exchange experiences and best practices and promote new projects. We look forward to further strengthening our economic ties.
How will the new consulate boost the relationship?
We decided to open a consulate general in Bengaluru considering the ever-growing importance of the state of Karnataka, which counts a population of about 60 million, similar to that of Italy. Bengaluru is known as the Silicon Valley of India and hosts an incredible number of IT companies, positioning itself as one of the most important high-tech districts in the world. The capital of Karnataka is home to outstanding institutes of theoretical and applied research such as the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem), Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and ISRO.
The key mission of the new consulate general of Italy, which will cover the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh with a population of about 220 million people, will be to foster bilateral trade, science and technology collaborations, cultural exchanges and people-to-people ties. Once fully operational, it will offer a closer point of access to visas for Italy and the Schengen area to Indian applicants, especially the many, highly qualified local students and graduates. The consulate will also be a crucial point of reference for the Italian business community operating there: Italy counts more than 60 companies in Karnataka in various sectors, including renewable energy, IT, defence, electronics, marble, leather, construction materials. Over 150 Italian companies are currently operating in the four states covered by the new consulate general.
Will the Ukraine crisis come up in your discussions in New Delhi? If so, what is the message you will convey to the Indian side?
Global affairs will be part of my conversations with foreign minister Jaishankar, including the current crisis in Ukraine, which requires efforts from all members of the international community on at least two fronts. On the one hand, it is important to tackle the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine — a crisis that is causing immense human and material losses. On the other hand, we urge an immediate ceasefire. The core principles underpinning peace and stability and an international order based on the UN Charter must be safeguarded, with special regard to the respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The president of the European Commission was here last month. How do you see EU-India relations move forward in the future?
I am very glad to acknowledge that there is an intensive partnership between India and the EU, as shown by the achievements of the last few years and the very successful visit of the president of the European Commission last month. We welcome the establishment of the new Trade and Technology Council, which could allow us to tackle global trade challenges and avoid unnecessary trade barriers. We firmly believe that global challenges such as the fight against the pandemic and climate change can only be tackled together, and we count on the EU Global Gateway initiative to enhance EU-India cooperation for investments in physical and digital connectivity. In this spirit, we look forward to restarting negotiations for a balanced, ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement, an agreement on protection of investments, and an agreement on protection of geographical indications.
Do you think recent developments have shifted attention from Afghanistan? How can Italy and India work together on Afghanistan and counterterrorism?
The seriousness of the situation in Afghanistan can hardly be overestimated. Last year, the Italian presidency of the G20 gave priority to the Afghan crisis. At the G20 extraordinary leaders’ meeting we convened in October, we recognised the leading role of the UN, notably in humanitarian assistance. We need to keep the international focus on the humanitarian emergency, on the condition of women and girls and respect of their fundamental rights, the economic crisis, and the risk of a resurgence of terrorist threats and illicit trafficking, with possible spillovers in the region. This is why Italy wants to continue to work for Afghanistan’s stability with all regional stakeholders, including India. Italy is also supporting the important work of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in the region.
Could you tell us about progress in the strategic partnership for energy transition and the plan of action 2020-2024?
India made energy transition a priority and set remarkable targets, starting with the government’s plan to develop 500 GW in renewable energy by 2030. Last October, our prime ministers launched a full-fledged strategic partnership in energy transition. Many Italian companies are contributing to India’s great effort and we hope in the near future, more actors will join. With this in mind, Italy is planning with Indian counterparts an Italy-India TechSummit specifically on energy transition and green economy. We will encourage the exchange of technology, policy dialogues, business-to-business meetings, CEOs interactions. We will explore innovative solutions and build new scientific collaborations. Our cooperation in this field is ever more important today to achieve energy independence in both countries.
We adopted the plan of action in 2020 with the aim of relaunching, across the board, the relations between our countries. After two years, many of the goals set out by the plan have been, or are being, achieved. The political dialogue between Rome and New Delhi has never been so intense and economic exchanges reached unprecedented levels. I believe our partnership has entered a new phase.
Are there new proposals whereby Italy can work with India’s Make in India initiative, including in defence?
Make in India is a great opportunity for all Italian companies that wish to broaden their markets, in all sectors: energy transition, food processing, mobility, and defence. Italian companies interested in expanding their presence in India can bring their cutting-edge technologies, expertise and innovative solutions in strategic areas, to the benefit of both countries.
In the field of defence, we are living a new momentum with our Indian partners. Our dialogue should now grow in intensity both at the institutional and industrial level, as our companies are able to provide solutions through the establishment of partnerships, technology transfers and training.
How can Italy and India cooperate in the Indo-Pacific, especially for transparent connectivity initiatives and post-Covid recovery?
Italy attaches great importance to the Indo-Pacific and its pivotal role for global economic development and stability. Italy is strongly committed to achieving the goals set in the EU’s Strategy for the Indo-Pacific. We believe that maritime cooperation will be an important pillar of the EU’s presence in the region. The connectivity pillar of the EU strategy has great potential as shown by the project developed by the Italian company Sparkle in collaboration with the US-based Google Cloud. The project aims at building two new undersea cable systems, which will expand communication routes between Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South Asia (Mumbai in India). We look forward to strengthening our cooperation with India within this framework.