French president Emmanuel Macron is all set to begin his maiden visit to India on Friday. India and France's partnership on climate change, the strategic partnership they share, and people-to-people ties are the three key aspects in terms of bilateral relations during the visit, according to French sources.
It is learnt that Macron has been preparing for the visit for long, and it has been in the works ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his visit to Paris in June 2017, extended an invitation.
A look at Macron's itinerary
Modi will hold a bilateral summit with Macron on Saturday following which several agreements across various sectors are expected to be signed.
The fight against terrorism and the security challenges the two countries face form an important aspect of the strategic partnership and are expected to come up in Saturday's discussions.
Macron is also looking forward to a town hall interaction with Indian youth scheduled for Saturday in New Delhi.
On Sunday, the two leaders will co-chair the founding conference of the India-initiated International Solar Alliance (ISA) which was launched by Modi and then French president Francois Hollande during the Paris climate summit in 2015.
The founding conference is expected to be attended by 55 countries of which 25 are expected to be represented at the head of state or head of the government level.
Travelling with his wife Brigitte, France's 40-year-old president is set to make the visit to the Taj Mahal.
On the last day of his trip, Macron will inaugurate Uttar Pradesh's largest solar power plant at Mirzapur near Varanasi made by the French company Engie Solar.
During the presidential visit, an India-France CEOs forum will also be held which will be attended by around 40 CEOs each from both sides.
Significance of Macron's visit
The French president's visit comes on the 20th anniversary of the India-France relationship being elevated to that of a strategic partnership. It was in 1998 that this elevation was made and India is France's first strategic partnership in the region.
Macron will "spend a lot of time with Narendra Modi," AFP quoted a source in the French presidency. The source added that the two leaders had "formed a close relationship" during Macron's first nine months in power.
France, like much of Europe and the West, sees India as a natural diplomatic and economic partner in Asia because of its role as the world's biggest democracy and its business potential.
France played a "decisive" role in India's accession to three of the four export control regimes—the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group—and is openly supporting India's membership in the fourth, the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
— Alexandre Ziegler (@FranceinIndia) March 8, 2018
In terms of maritime cooperation, the two countries are working together for peace and stability in the Indian Ocean region.
Space cooperation is another aspect of the strategic partnership and Macron's visit is expected to add momentum to this.
Trade between the two countries will also come up for discussion. Bilateral trade between the two sides reached $10.95 billion in 2016-17, and, according to the sources, this rose by a further 20 percent in 2017-18.
According to the sources, with access to solar technology being extremely difficult, there will be a clear expression of the needs of the smaller countries during the ISA conference.
The two biggest issues between the India and France in recent years— defence and nuclear energy sales—will also take centre-stage during private talks.
In September 2016, India finally inked a deal to buy 36 French-made Rafale fighter jets, much less than the 126 that were once discussed, but France and its manufacturer Dassault Aviation hold hopes of further sales.
Macron will also vaunt the quality of Airbus helicopters and Scorpene submarines in a country that buys 90 percent of its equipment from abroad, making it the world's biggest arms buyer. Obstacles holding up the long-delayed sale of six nuclear reactors will also be discussed.
Macron is also expected to announce plans to allow Indian Navy ships to use French bases in the southern Indian Ocean where New Delhi remains wary of Chinese expansion in an area that it sees as its strategic backyard.
Deals likely to be inked between India, France
The Union Cabinet has approved several agreements which are likely to be signed during Macron's visit.
The recent Cabinet meeting, chaired by Modi, approved the signing of four agreements between India and France on the migration of people, recognition of academic qualifications, prevention of illicit consumption and traffic of narcotic drugs, and cooperation on the environment.
"The agreement represents a major milestone in enhancing people-to-people contacts, fostering mobility of students, academics, researchers and skilled professionals and strengthening cooperation on issues related to irregular migration and human trafficking between the two sides," the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.
The Cabinet also approved the signing of a deal between India and France to facilitate mutual recognition of educational qualifications and periods of study undertaken by students in recognised and accredited educational institutions in the two countries.
The ministry said that the deal will be instrumental in encouraging mobility of students from both the countries by facilitating possibilities for them to continue their studies in the other country and would also promote excellence in higher education through partnerships and joint research activities.
The Cabinet further approved an agreement between India and France on the Prevention of the Illicit Consumption and Reduction of Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Chemical Precursors, and related offences. This agreement covers exchange of information, expertise and capacity building. Establishment of effective institutional interaction and curbing transnational narcotics trafficking including disruption of terrorist financing structures is also covered in it.
Macron and Modi are also likely to sign a memorandum of cooperation in the field of environment. The Cabinet cleared another agreement that aims to establish and promote closer and long-term cooperation between the countries in the field of environment protection and management of natural resources.
"The memorandum of cooperation is expected to bring in the latest technologies and best practices suited to bringing about better environment protection, better conservation, better management of climate change and wildlife protection/conservation," said another official statement.
With inputs from agencies
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