India and France are set to galvanise their multifarious relations during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden trip to Paris. The two countries have a robust strategic partnership over the years, and are looking to push the envelope in a host of areas.
In this interview with Manish Chand, Editor-in-Chief, India Writes Network, (www.indiawrites.org), Rakesh Sood, India’s former ambassador to France, speaks about a cluster of issues that will be on the table when Prime Minister Modi holds talks with the French President Francois Hollande in Paris on April 10. He provides an overarching view of what makes the India-France relations unique and how the forthcoming prime ministerial visit will impart a renewed momentum in areas of defence, nuclear energy and space and open up new avenues of bilateral cooperation.
(Excerpts from the interview)
How do you look at the trajectory of the India-France relations at this moment? And how do you see the importance of Prime Minister Modi’s visit to France, which is also his first visit to Europe
India and France have had one of the oldest strategic partnerships. What do I mean by a strategic partnership? I mean that we have had long-standing cooperation in areas of defence, nuclear energy and space. Three areas that normally constitute strategic partnership, and particularly in recent decades we have also strengthened our cooperation in the area of counter-terrorism and intelligence-sharing. So I think it is a very substantive relationship and French President Hollande was here in February 2013. Obviously, in 2014 we had our elections and so it is very opportune that Prime Minister Modi is now visiting Paris and other locations in France.
What are the key issues that will be on the agenda? What outcome can one expect from the forthcoming visit?
One outcome is obviously in the strategic dimension, and as I mentioned, there are four sectors in it. France has been a major partner in the defence sector; we used the Mirage aircraft and are currently negotiating on the Rafale aircraft. We are also building Scorpene submarines which are being built at Mazagon Dock. There are also other areas relating to missile technology, helicopters and a whole host of other high-tech equipment which we have traditionally bought from France. And today it is quite possible that we may see further development in this area. Another area is service-to-service cooperation — this is normally reflected in the annual exercises and we have annual exercises between the military, the navy and the air forces. A second thing is the nuclear dimension: now France has been a key partner with us in the nuclear field, they had supplied us fuel for the Tarapur when the US had refused to supply us fuel for Tarapur during the 70s and 80s. More recently in civilian nuclear cooperation, the French company Areva has been in negotiation with NPCIL on setting up six nuclear power plants at Jaitapur. In the arena of space, there is a very strong partnership as we jointly launch satellites. In fact, French companies use the PSLV, which is an ISRO launch vehicle for launching smaller satellites. In the area of counter- terrorism, we have focused much more on intelligence-sharing. The French are very active, particularly in West Africa which is a region of great concern to them and today we see a proliferation of terror networks in the region, including Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb. We would certainly like to strengthen our cooperation with France in this particular field along with intelligence-sharing with the relevant agencies.
One of the cross-cutting themes of the prime minister’s Europe trip is seeking external support for the Make in India campaign and smart cities. As the prime minister has tweeted, his Europe agenda is primarily economic. How do you look at this dimension of the India-France relations? What can we expect in the economic arena
One of the key sectors of cooperation will be in the area of smart cities, and this is something which is extremely important for India. We have seen that this is a subject which is very close to the heart of this particular government; they are putting a lot of emphasis on it and some of the global leaders in urban planning, urban infrastructure, urban transportation, water management, sewage management, public sanitation are French companies. I would not be surprised if this area figures prominently in the discussions. In addition, we also have about more than 700 French companies who are working in India. The French investment in India would be in the range about more than $10 billion, and these include companies like Alstom which are in power distribution. Another focus area of investment would be agro-processing: as you know, France has a very rich tradition of food and they focus a lot on agro-processing some of the global leaders in this field are French companies in this sector. So these are some of the areas which I think could contribute a lot to the idea of ‘Make in India,’ in addition to the strategic dimension which would be the nuclear, space and defence.
Coming back to civil nuclear cooperation, Areva is planning to set up six nuclear reactors in Jaitapur. There are still lingering issues relating to India’s civil nuclear liability regime and other issues. Do you see a resolution of these issues in the run up to the trip?
The French companies have had some concerns about liability, and from what I understand they are quite reassured with the kind of understanding that has just been concluded with the United States. I am quite sure that the Government of India or NPCIL will be in a position to provide similar assurances both to French companies or to Indian suppliers because Indian suppliers are equally concerned about liability provisions. Once these are out of way then it is just a question of working out the financial and technical details, the costing and pricing negotiations and so on. And hopefully, we should see two of the 6 reactors supposed to be built by Areva at Jaitapur are being fast-tracked. We will see some movement on this front as well.
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