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Sarkozy’s Visit to India

Prof. Nivedita Das Kundu, Ph.D, Teaches at York University, Toronto, Canada, also President, Academic & International Collaboration, Liaison College, Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
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  • January 29, 2008

    President Nicolas Sarkozy’s first visit to India on January 25-27, 2008 (along with 300 delegates) provided fresh impetus to the strategic partnership between the two countries. The visit reinforced the interests of both countries in maintaining close and friendly ties and in strengthening a multipolar world order. During his visit, Sarkozy had one-to-one talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, followed by discussions between the two sides on various sectors. The two countries signed several major agreements related to defence, nuclear research, space and healthcare. Stating that there is a convergence of ideas on international issues and releasing a Joint Statement and Joint Declaration on Global warming, the French president asserted that Indo-French strategic partnership would get fresh impetus from his visit.

    At present Indo-French co-operation lies on three pillars – defence, academic exchanges and co-operation in science and technology. In spite of immense opportunities in each other's economy, bilateral trade in 2006-07 was quite nominal. It is evident that economic and trade engagement needs a significant boost. Promises were made by the leaders of both countries earlier as well as this time to nearly triple trade to 12 billion euros by 2012. But the Indian business community feels that certain practical issues and concerns need to be addressed first, like the easing of visa regulations for Indian businessmen and facilitating easy work permits for skilled Indian workers.

    While addressing issues and concerns related to trade and economic co-operation, Sarkozy articulated the point that both countries are fast growing market-oriented economies and therefore there is a need to make greater efforts to penetrate each other's market. He promised that French companies will invest 10 billion euros over the next four years and that he will put in place the conditions for easing the entry of Indian businesses into the French market and engage more Indian companies for joint collaborative projects in sectors like healthcare/pharmaceuticals, encourage joint research and development in information and technology, telecommunications, automobile sector, consumer goods and high technology including nano and bio-technology sectors. The French side has shown interest in engaging India’s private sector companies as well as small and medium enterprises. Talks on expansion of inter-banking co-operation were also focused upon.

    In the energy sector, the French president mentioned that his country is ready to co-operate with India in the civilian nuclear domain. France and India together, he said, could promote nuclear energy with the highest standards of safety and security in accordance with their respective nuclear policies and international obligations. He even showed keenness for the construction of twenty new nuclear power units in various parts of India. Of course, these are contingent upon the Nuclear Suppliers Group revising its guidelines. Sarkozy stated that France will work at that forum to help India's case for grant of a waiver. He also said that France has been a strong supporter of the Indo-US nuclear deal, though he did not wish to comment on India’s domestic debate on the issue. But he gave the assurance that once the domestic Indian debate on the issue is resolved and as soon as the international waiver is obtained, France would actively involve itself in India’s nuclear energy programme.

    Joint development in agriculture is another significant feature of the evolving relationship between the two countries. India and France are also expanding the scope to venture further into the roads and railways sector.

    Military ties between India and France are developing steadily and today it includes joint research and development, production, marketing, regular co-operation between the different branches of arms and joint training exercises. During the Sarkozy visit, the two countries also discussed the scope for upgrading India's ageing 52 Mirage-2000 fighter aircraft. Under this programme, Indian Mirages would be upgraded to Mirage 2000-9 levels as flown by the French Air Force. Through the upgradation, the Indian Air Force is hoping to increase the life of its Mirage fighters by 25 years. The upgradation will involve fitment of advanced radars and avionics, and arming the aircraft with air-to-air missiles that have beyond visual range. It is important to note here that the Mirages will form one of the frontline aircraft of the Indian Air Force till the new 126 multi-role combat fighter jets are inducted by 2014. It is expected that the upgradation of Mirages would be undertaken at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) with the support of French companies Thallus International and Dassault. While it is true that defence co-operation between the two countries is significant, there is also a need to develop an institutional mechanism to link institutions and thus spur innovation as well as commercialisation of new technologies.

    On issues relating to extremism and terrorism, both countries have decided to address the threat bilaterally and globally. It is envisaged that the India-France Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism would be strengthened and both countries have decided to step-up ‘operational contacts’, to face this common threat.

    While addressing the conference on Indo-France Economic and Political co-operation, Sarkozy emphasised the point that “India is the perfect example of democracy and diversity in the [Asian] continent.” He also expressed support for including India in an expanded G-8. To quote: “Why should the G-8 be a meeting of just eight countries, how can only few of us … solve the global problems with India, China, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa invited only for lunch on the final day? France does not accept this 20th century decisions, it is a matter of right for India to be part of an expanded G-13 or G-14. How can you deal with the major problems of the world without these significant countries of the world?" The French president also contended that India’s role is essential to “resolve the major crises of the world in the 21st century and not only regional crises [and] therefore we need to increase the members in UNSC too.”