|Salman Khurshid and Laurent Fabius|
In an official visit to France, the minister however said that the bilateral relations were "again growing steadily and there is considerable untapped potential for further growth."
During his intervention, at a joint press conference after the meeting in Paris, Khurshid invited "French investments in infrastructure, food processing industries, hi-tech and green technologies," adding that India and France shared the same values of liberty, equality and fraternity.
Though he did not attribute the famous triple-mantra to the French Revolution, it was symbolic that, while in Paris, he reiterated India's attachment to these universal values.
Both sides agree that the relations between India and France have always been based on trust.
Khurshid listed various fields such as trade, investment, defence, security, counter-terrorism, space, nuclear energy, education, culture, science & technology and people to people contacts where India and France work closely together.
Regarding civil nuclear co-operation, the Indian minister reaffirmed that India was committed to the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project; further both sides are deeply committed to ensure the safety of the project.
Though no date was announced for the visit of President Hollande in India, Khurshid said that India was looking forward to welcoming President Hollande in the near future (hopefully sometime in February).
The Foreign Minister stated that the meeting with Laurent Fabius was "cordial, comprehensive and fruitful"; he took the opportunity to mention the close collaboration in the field of space.
He particularly pointed to the successful launch of the joint scientific satellite, Megha-Tropiques, in October 2011.
The launch of satellite for ARGOS and ALTIKA (SARAL) should happen during the first quarter of 2013, he said.
To give an idea of the 'trusted' relation between India and France, I re-post here my interview with Mr. Ranjan Mathai, then Indian Ambassador to France (today, India's Foreign Secretary) conducted for Rediff.com in 2008.
September 29, 2008
After meeting President George W Bush in Washington, DC, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flew to Marseille, France, for the yearly European Union-India Summit. Dr Singh will then arrive in Paris where he is expected to sign an agreement in the field of civil nuclear cooperation with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Senior rediff.com Contributor Claude Arpi spoke to Ranjan Mathai, India's ambassador to France, to discuss not only the nuclear deal which will soon be operational and will have no other conditionality than the ones imposed by the Nuclear Suppliers Group waiver in Vienna, but also all other aspects of the Indo-French relations, ten years after the signature of a privileged strategic partnership with France in January 1998.
Let us first take the bilateral relations between France and India. 10 years ago, a strategic partnership agreement was signed between the two nations. It was one of the first to be signed. What is your assessment of this partnership today?
Indeed, it is a partnership which has grown in strength and maturity. We are today moving into concrete steps in all strategic fields.
Take first the field of space. We are increasing collaboration and have reached the stage where India's launch capacities will be used by France and its European partners. Then take defence -- we have a number of ongoing projects which are important to both sides.
Of course, there is the well-known Scorpene submarine project. Then there is the upgrade (you call it 'retrofitting') of the Mirage (fighter aircraft) which is crucial for our air force. There is also some ongoing discussion on a collaboration on missiles.
With MBDA (a subsidiary of EADS of France and BAE of UK)?
Yes, between MBDA and its Indian counterpart. In the months to come, we are hoping for some substantial progress in all this.
What about the 126 fighter planes for which bidding is opened?
It is an international tender opened to the major manufacturers. We understand that Dassault of France is one of the bidders. Though (in this case) evaluation and discussions have just started.
One issue which has been at the centre of the political stage in India is the nuclear deal. The media and the politicians have projected the deal as a US nuclear deal, though other players, mainly France and Russia [ Images ], have been involved from the start. Do you see it as a US nuclear deal only?
Let me put it this way. I don't know what the media is saying, but we, the Government of India, have always valued the potential of its partnership in the field of civil nuclear energy with both France and Russia.
Specifically for France, we expect that the bilateral agreement which was prepared earlier (and initialed) during the visit of President Sarkozy to India (in January 2008) will be signed during the prime minister's visit to France.
I must say that we appreciate very much the role of France during the talks with the NSG and the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).
Has France been very supportive?
France has indeed been very active and supportive of India, not only during bilateral negotiations but also with other European partners and other members of these fora, particularly during the NSG negotiations. I have formally conveyed India's appreciation to the French government.
Reprocessing is not mentioned in the agreement previously initialed. Will you discuss this point during the bilateral talks?
I don't want to comment on the details. All matters related to civil nuclear cooperation will be discussed between both parties and the implementation will be made by the designated agencies of the two sides.
Both France and India have been facing attacks in Afghanistan in recent months. The French public is seriously concerned after the killing of 10 French soldiers and the Indian embassy was bombed in Kabul. Is there any collaboration between the two sides? Are you satisfied with the strategic dialogue on terrorism?
These are two different questions; though there are inter-relationships. One is in the general field of counter-terrorism or joint action against terrorism. We are at the stage of exchanging information.
We have a strategic dialogue (held twice a year between the Indian national security advisor and his French counterpart). The fight against terrorism is an important part of this dialogue. As the result of these regular meetings, the coordination (in the fight) against terrorism and the flow of information is improving. We hope that it will even become more effective in the coming years.
With regard to Afghanistan, we have always been in favour of international efforts for the stabilisation and reconstruction of the country. We ourselves have been involved in the field of economic reconstruction. We have taken up several projects (roads, etc) and we are training the Afghan forces.
The Afghan government has the Afghan National Development Strategy Plan which embodies the strategic priorities and aspirations of the Afghan government and people. We are supporting it, not only bilaterally (between India and Afghanistan) but also internationally. The national security of Afghanistan is part of the development strategy.
In June we participated in the international conference convened by the government of France and held in Paris. We then reiterated our support for the reconstruction and development activities of the Karzai government. We welcomed the role of France in bringing all concerned countries together.
The loss suffered by the French troops was a shock not only for France, but also for India. In fact our defence minister (A K Antony) has written to (Herve Morin) his French counterpart expressing India's shock and has presented our condolences for the French losses.
One of the criticisms against NATO is that it is not doing enough for the reconstruction like India is doing. Being geographically, historically and culturally closer to Afghanistan, could India advice NATO and France in this matter?
I don't think we would like to advise anybody, certainly not any international organisation, but in all our statements, in all our dialogues, we have repeatedly said that the Afghans themselves have devised as a consensus what they call their national development strategy, which includes security and reconstruction. Anything fitting into this is conducive for international cooperation.
About economic relations, President Sarkozy spoke of doubling the bilateral trade with India (to 12 billion euros) by 2012. Is it achievable? In which field do you see the most scope of growth?
It is important to remember that the 6 or 6.5 billon euros bilateral trade is very small considering the size of our two economies and the large size of our foreign trade. It is certainly not enough. In 2007, foreign trade grew at 26 per cent. If we are able to maintain this pace, the 12 billion euros target should be achievable even before 2012.
We are looking at an increased French investment in India (and a significant Indian investment in France). Investment-led trade could be a major factor in the years to come, particularly in infrastructure and high technologies.
What about nuclear cooperation?
Once the agreement gets off the ground and when groups like Areva come (to India), there will be a major increase in trade. Even now, if you look at trends in infrastructure, cement, railways, autos, etc. there is a great potential.
In the first part of the interview with senior rediff.com contributor Claude Arpi, India's Ambassador to France Ranjan Mathai discussed Indo-French nuclear cooperation.
In this concluding segment of an exclusive interview, the ambassador highlights India's expectations for the strengthening of the political dialogue between the two sides and stresses India's global role in tackling climate change issue.
The prime minister will meet MEDEF (Mouvement des Entreprises de France or French CEO's Union). There is a feeling that what is needed is facilitation for the small and medium-scale industries to invest in India or vice-versa. In a way, it seems easier for large companies to come to India.
The prime minister will address the India-EU business summit which is held in Paris. He will be accompanied by Mr Kamal Nath. There will be a very large number of French companies involved. I have seen the initial list of some 120 companies which will be participating; the MEDEF told us that they expect around 200 companies. This includes a large number of companies listed in the CAC 40 (the French Sensex), but also several small and medium-scale industries.
The day after the summit, FICCI will have an India-France business forum with French small business groups. Mr Kamal Nath will participate in this as well as in two other sessions, one being a meeting between the Committee Colbert and its Indian counterpart in the field of luxury goods.
A few words about educational exchanges. One critique is that there are very few Indian students in France. Perhaps the language is a problem, but 1,300 students is really a small number. How are you planning to improve this situation?
If you compare the numbers with Indian students in the US, one factor is definitively the language; another factor is that one generation having gone there (to the US), the next generation tends to follow. Linkages have been created between universities and individual academics, and these have not grown to the same extent with France.
US universities also offer financial assistance to Indian students. (About the number of students] Mrs Valerie Pecresse (the French minister for higher education and research) has also quoted this low figure of students when she visited India last November. Since then, many new exchanges have taken place. A Consortium of Indo-French Universities (CIFU) has been recently set up; its first meeting will be held in the next few months. They are working on mutual recognition of degrees, mobility of students, sharing of semesters, and other very innovative projects.
In the fields of sciences and engineering, a number of scholarships have been created. French companies have decided to sponsor some of them. In sciences and engineering, we expect a large increase of the number of students in the months and years to come.
Some institutions like the IITs already have their own tie-ups with some Grandes Ecoles (French prestigious schools of higher learning].
The IIMs and other business schools have started this, they have signed their own agreements with French business schools. This is complementary to the efforts of the consortium which is led by the Consortium of Indian Universities. This is a good project.
In France and Europe, the public and the governments are deeply concerned about environment and climate change. France and Europe would like India to be more active in the fight against global warming. What is the Indian government's response to this? Do you agree that India (and China) are more interested by growth than environment?
No, I don't agree. In fact we have always been interested by environment. In Stockholm, during the first UN Conference on Environment, one of the few world leaders who participated (apart from the host country), was Mrs Indira Gandhi [ Images ]. That was in 1972. The interest level of the other nations was not high at that time.
Of course, things have evolved; today it is a matter of global concern. The prime minister has announced a national action plan for adaptation. We are doing what we can in the field of renewable energies. We even created a ministry for renewable energy more than 20 years ago. We are one of the largest producers of wind power. We have also heavily invested in solar energy. We are now working on energy efficiency.
You must also remember that on a per capita basis, the CO2 emission is 1/5 of the European level and nearly 1/15 of the US. In India, CO2 emission is 1.6 tonnes per capita, in the EU it is 8 and the US, 19. France is slightly lower than the EU average because of its heavy investment in nuclear energy for electricity. Our prime minister has said that India will ensure that India's per capita emission will never exceed the levels of developed nations.
The planet would face a catastrophic scenario, if it did.
You have to take to account that we are human beings. We are all equal, and entitled to the same amount of atmospheric space. When you say the per capita argument is catastrophic, it appears to us that we have not the same rights than others. Every human being should be treated on the same basis.
We have been at the forefront of asking for a global cooperation to tackle this issue through three aspects. First, we need a transition to a new energy era, then we need more open trade in lower carbon technology for industrial processes, finally we need to look at lifestyles.
The latter is a matter of education, recycling, organising society to reduce waste, etc. But for the first two which are crucial for the economic suitability, we have to look at enough financial flows into these new technologies into the developing world. Then, when you have these new technologies, like clean coal, there is the cost element because of patents.
To give you the example of the HIV/AIDS campaign; the global community took a conscious decision, that if a company can produce at a lower price drugs which can help dealing with global calamity, then the drug is made available. The crisis had to be overcome by ending the monopoly of a few companies.
In the same way, if a breakthrough is made in new technologies, it should spread through the world. We should agree that it a global issue, not a commercial issue.
India and France have set up a joint working group for the purpose. We will meet very soon. We will look at technologies, finances and what can be done to support sustainable development.
Another summit will be held -- the EU-India summit. What are your expectations for this summit?
Let me clarify that the main interlocutor to the European Union is my colleague in Brussels.
As you know France is holding the presidency of the EU and we have been in dialogue. We are therefore looking forward to this summit to be held in Marseille [ Images ]. It will be a privileged dialogue between the top leaders of the European Union and the prime minister of India.
We hope that during the talks, some progress will be made on the path towards a broad based trade and investment agreement.
Then we expect a strengthening of the political dialogue between the two sides. We also hope to achieve some progress on other items related to education and culture. We finally understand that there will be a joint work program on energy issues and climate change which is a crucial issue.
Brussels seems indeed to be very keen on a dialogue on environment with India.
We have a Joint Action Plan. It defines the joint executive programme in different fields. On the occasion of the summit, the entire JAP is going to be reviewed. We are hoping for progress in all fields.