Recorded history speaks of emissaries between Sri Lanka and Rome in the 1st century. According to historian Pliny, there were four members from Sri Lanka who visited (Circa 50 A.D.) the Court of Emperor Claudius Caesar. Another delegation from Sri Lanka arrived in Rome during the time of Emperor Julian (Circa A.D. 375). This was during the reign of King Mahanama of Sri Lanka. There have been political and trade links between our two countries, dating back to several centuries.
In modern times, the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Italy was established in 1952. Both countries are maintaining Missions headed by a resident Ambassador in each others’ capitals. There have been a number of high level visits between the two countries over the years. Bilateral relations between our two countries have been close and cordial. Strong people to people contacts have been an important element of the bilateral relations. There are an estimated 80,000 Sri Lankan expatriates in Italy.
The Bilateral Air Services Agreement signed in 1959 and subsequently revised to reflect new realities, has been an important conduit for intensified people to people interaction and facilitating business. Flights between Colombo, Milan and Rome operate 3 days of the week. An Investment Protection Agreement and an Agreement on Avoidance of Double Taxation was concluded in 1990 facilitate an important area of business. The Italy – Sri Lanka Business Council was established in 1997 and the Establishment of this Council has contributed to increase Italian investments in Sri Lanka.
Relief assistance in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster symbolizes the warm and generous goodwill Italy extends to Sri Lanka. Italy has been particularly forthcoming in Sri Lanka’s times of need. Almost 50 million Euros were provided as Tsunami relief and reconstruction assistance following the December 2004 tsunami. Italian funds financed 48 critical projects in Sri Lanka and the Italian Government flights were among the first to land at the Katunayake Airport within 24 hours of the Tsunami striking Sri Lanka.
The varied nature of existing bilateral agreements is indicative of the vibrancy of the relationship between Italy and Sri Lanka. The agreements signed as of present include, among others:
- Air Services Agreement signed in 1959 and subsequent commercial arrangement revisions
- Investment Promotion & Protection Agreement signed in 1987
- Agreement on Avoidance of Double Taxation signed in 1984 and concluded in 1990
- Agreement for Cultural, Scientific and Technological Cooperation
- Memorandum to amend the 1873 Extradition Treaty dated August 1999
- Exchange of Notes on Anchorage
- Exchange of Notes for the Re-admission of illegal immigrants
The two countries enjoy a consolidated trade and investment relationship. The value of total trade between the two countries is registered at US $ 604.49 Mn. in 2009. This figure is a slight decline of 10.7% compared to the previous year (2008), primarily due to a decline in exports from Sri Lanka to Italy, as well as imports from Italy to Sri Lanka. However, the potential for 2010 and beyond is viewed as very positive, particularly in the post-conflict scenario. There is growing interest and initiatives to further intensify trade and investment between the two countries, including in the tourism sector.
Overall, the relationship between Sri Lanka and Italy is a strong and abiding one. The ancient links, coupled with the positive political relationship and supplemented by vibrant activity in the cultural sphere, and intense people to people contacts have resulted in a dynamic, mutually rewarding relationship. The relationship with Italy is considered to be one of the most positive and helpful engagements Sri Lanka enjoys in the European sector.