French Prez Hollande in India: Defence, trade to top agenda

New Delhi: Strategic partners for nearly 15 years, India and France will seek to further cement their multi-faceted ties during the visit of French President Francois Hollande who has arrived in India.

The French president will head a high-level delegation, including six ministers and a 50-member trade delegation. For Hollande, who became president last May, this is his first bilateral state visit to Asia, and on a personal level, his first visit to India.

He will be accompanied by his companion Valerie Trierweiler - a journalist. They are the first unmarried couple to represent France.

While the two big ticket deals with France - the over $10-billion contract for the purchase of 126 Rafale fighter jets and French reactors for the Jaitapur nuclear power plant -are not ready for being inked during the visit, Hollande and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are to discuss the status of the contracts during their delegation-level talks Thursday.

 French President Francois Hollande (R) is greeted by Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur on his arrival at the airport, in New Delhi. PTI

French President Francois Hollande (R) is greeted by Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur on his arrival at the airport, in New Delhi. PTI

The ties between the two countries covers areas such as defence, civil nuclear energy, space and counter terrorism, besides education, science and technology and culture among other areas.

Six ministers, including Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Trade Minister Nicole Bricq, will be part of the delegation, a diplomatic source told IANS.

Around four agreements, including in the field of education, are to be inked between the two sides, said a source, but declined to reveal the details.

Details of the deal for the purchase of 126 Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) - manufactured by Dassault Aviation -for the Indian Air Force are being worked out, as well as the commercial aspect of the contract for the purchase of six reactors for the Jaitapur project.

French nuclear giant Areva and Nuclear Power Corporation of India are discussing the details of the deal, as well as the liability issue.

"We are not at a stage to say that negotiations have concluded... They are ongoing and we are fully committed" to the project, an Indian official had said Tuesday.

Post-Fukushima, France has tried to assure India that the reactors are "totally safe". French ambassador Francois Richier has said the nuclear power project would prove to be a "game changer" for India.

Among the defence deals likely to be inked would be for India's $2-billion light utility helicopter (LUH) programme. Eurocopter of France is one of the competitive bidders to sell 197 LUHs to India, a diplomatic source had said.

India and France have been working on the short-range surface-to-air missile (SRSAM) project for the past few years. "The cooperation in design and R&D has proceeded very satisfactorily," and both sides would be looking towards making it a reality, an official said.

"Defence is an area where we have a lot do together. We foresee co-production and co-development in India," the French envoy said at a conference Monday.

The two sides would also discuss international issues, including Mali, where France sent its forces last month to push out al Qaeda militants.

India has pledged $1 million to the United Nations-backed Mission in Mali. Trade would also figure in their talks with France maintaining that "economic relations have not grown as they should have". India-France trade in 2012 was at eight billion euros, much below the expected figure of 12 billion euros.

Among the French business delegation would be Paul Hermelin, CEO of one of France's biggest IT companies Capgemini, which employs about 40,000 people in India.

Hermelin, who "knows India quite well", has been appointed as a special envoy by the French foreign minister to develop economic relations, to focus on developing economic relations with India, an official said.

Culture, education and scientific research would also be high on the agenda of the talks. Trierweiler's programme is not yet known, a diplomatic source said, adding that her time in India will focus on "social issues".

Hollande will be given a ceremonial welcome at Rashtrapati Bhavan. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid will call on him after which he is to hold delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi and leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj will also call on the French president.

Hollande will deliver a lecture at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library 15 February, where he will honour Nobel laureate Amartya Sen with the Commandeur de la Legion d'Honneur, France's highest honour.

He will then visit Mumbai to participate in a business conference.


Updated Date: Dec 20, 2014 15:56 PM

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