New India, Old Europe

NEW DELHI – The recent Indian-Italian bilateral dialogue, held in Milan on November 7, at a time when Italy was reeling from the euro crisis and Silvio Berlusconi’s impending political demise, offered a fraught reminder of the potential, and the limits, of India’s relationship with the European Union.

India has a long history of relations with Europe, going back to the days of the Roman Empire. Its southwestern state of Kerala boasted a Roman port, Muziris, centuries before Jesus Christ was born; excavations are now revealing even more about its reach and influence.

The discovery of ancient amphorae has confirmed that India used to import products such as olive oil, wine, and glass from Italy, in exchange for exotic items like ivory and spices. Interestingly, an ivory statue of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, dating back to the first century BC, was found during excavations of the ruins of Pompeii in southern Italy.

After languishing for centuries, trade is once more shaping the relationship between these two world regions. The EU is India’s second-largest trading partner, with turnover reaching €68 billion ($93.5 billion) in 2010, accounting for 20% of India’s global trade. Exports of services from Europe to India are worth €10 billion, while services imports are valued at a little more than €8 billion.