A month before Italian Prime Minister Ramono Prodi's visit to India, the Italian Minister for International Trade and European Affairs, Emma Bonino, was in New Delhi to take stock of the situation.
With bilateral trade at a low of 1.43 billion euros, the two countries have set a target of 10 million euros by 2010. In an interview, Bonino told M Rajendran, that there was an urgent need for more business growth in the small and medium sectors between the two countries, particularly in the agriculture sector.
The Italian Prime Minister is scheduled to visit India next month. What economic message is he brining to India?
He would have two messages. The political message is to have an enhanced partnership with India, not only in knowledge but in all spheres. The economic message is to explore the ways to enhance trade relations between the two countries, which is good but needs to be excelled. The Indian Commerce and Industry Minister has set a target of bilateral trade of 10 billion euro and I accept the challenge. Around 300 business leaders of Italy will be part of the Prime Minister Prodi's delegation, who will come to explore business opportunities between the two countries.
So what would be the areas of cooperation?
Our focus would be on food processing since there is a huge potential in India. According to our estimates, India processes only 2 per cent of what it produces. We have some good technology for the small and medium industries. The popularity of Italian food worldwide is well known and we feel that both countries could collaborate in this field. The second area is infrastructure: we have some good expertise in road, ports, airport and rail system, which are not hi-tech but are adaptable to the systems worldwide. The thrust would be cooperation on small and medium enterprises (SME), since about 95 per cent of our production is from the SME sector.
Do you agree with the general perception here that Italian companies have shown little interest in India?
Yes. There is a need for culture change in my country. It is difficult to convince our business people to get into trade relations with India since they see a lot of risk here. Logistic, promotion and research would be a challenge for the SMEs. Our meeting at Kolkata and Mumbai would focus on these issues. Our business delegation would visit Chennai, Bangalore, Calcutta, Mumbai and Delhi.
What role the two governments can play in resolving the controversy between Neyveli Lignite Corporation and Ansaldo Energia over the payment of 24 million euro (Rs 140 crore) for delay in completion of a power project?
I would take up the issue with my counterpart in India, Kamal Nath. Both of us have no legal role to play but what we can do is to make the two parties sit down and resolve the matter amicably. It is not the government's role to go into the details of businesses. But we will give some political indications to the two companies that the matter should be resolved before the Italian Prime Minister visits India keeping the future trade relations between the two countries in mind.
What are your views on agriculture subsidy and a role for Italy to break the deadlock at the World Trade Organisation?
The general mood in Europe is softer on the subsidy issue. I must admit that we in Italy are phasing out subsidies. We are mid-way and hope that we can move faster on the issue.