Right after my appointment as Minister of Foreign Affairs in the new Italian government led by Prime Minister Monti, we set ourselves the objective to relaunch relations with India, the world's largest democracy and a natural partner for Italy, in political terms, as well as in the field of trade and investment and in the people-to-people dimension. This is the driving reason behind my visit to India. I trust that it will contribute to bring our partnership to an even higher level.
Our ties could be well defined as “civilizational.” In this same spirit, I wish to convey my condolences and sorrow for the death of two fishermen, in the recent tragic event off the coast of Kerala. Even while we may differ on the jurisdiction to be applied, we are clearly eager to closely cooperate with the Indian authorities to establish the truth.
As peoples who live by the sea, both Indians and Italians strongly feel the loss of two fishermen who went out to sea that day, just as any other day, to do their job and support their families. Together with my fellow citizens, hundreds of Indian sailors do the same thing every day on Italian ships all over the world; 19 of them are crew members of the “Enrica Lexie.” Indian and Italian sailors together have been kept hostage in Somalia for months: the recent release of the crew of the ship “Savina Caylyn” came after months of relentless efforts by the Italian government. In fact, to prevent the repetition of such ordeals, the Italian marines were assigned on duty on board the “Enrica Lexie,” within the framework and the rules provided by the United Nations and international law. That is why we are so keen to find a solution to this special case at the soonest.
Today, piracy is a common enemy. It is a menace we need to fight in close cooperation and with the strongest determination, if we want sailors to continue to navigate the seas safely.
Piracy is just one of the common challenges of a changing world. One more reason to be committed to enhancing the relationship between India and Italy. Our two countries are highly committed members of the international community. We are both members of the G20. We share an equal commitment to the values of democracy and respect for human rights. There is much we can do together to foster these values. We are among the largest contributors of troops to U.N. peace-keeping operations. We both have high stakes in maintaining security and stability, at the regional and at the global levels.
Moreover, today, 1,20,000 Indians are welcome members of the Italian society, the largest Indian community in Continental Europe. This is an additional bridge which further unites our countries and will contribute to a prosperous common future.
Our willingness to forge new ties rests also on a unique convergence of economic interests. Last year, despite the global crisis, bilateral trade has grown by a robust 24 per cent and the performance of Indian exports to Italy — with a 30 per cent increase — has been particularly impressive. Italy is Europe's fourth largest economy and Europe's second largest manufacturing country. Under Prime Minister Monti's leadership, we have launched the most comprehensive market reforms plan in Italy's recent history. Unprecedented opportunities are now available for long term partnerships between our governments and industries in some of the areas crucial to India's performance as a global industrial powerhouse: infrastructure, automotive, energy, agro-food technologies, textile and industrial design and defence. People-to-people contacts are equally important. Ninety thousand Italian tourists visited India last year; an equal, or larger number of Indian tourists were welcomed in Italy. We want to promote the unimpeded flow of talent and ideas between our two Countries, giving further impulse to the exchange of students and to joint academic ventures.
Italy and India have a long tradition of contacts and mutual influences, dating back to 2,000 years. Trade between India and Italy was already flourishing in the First and Second Century A.D. Roman authors such as Pliny the Elder or Curtius Rufus offered Europe the first glimpses of India's culture, customs and wealth. In the Middle Ages, the Silk Route and the Spice Route brought a host of Italian merchants and travellers to India. Their diaries and chronicles make a very interesting reading even today, often expressing sentiments of empathy and affinity between our peoples. It is also significant that the first steps taken by the great poet Tagore on European soil was in Italy, as a 17-year-old. He landed in Brindisi, illuminated by the moonlight. We have a rich common past. But the future is before us, open to new avenues for cooperation, in a world that is fast becoming more integrated and interconnected. We can work together for a better life for future generations.