New Delhi: India and France on Thursday resolved to nearly triple bilateral trade to €12 billion (Rs69,720 crore) by 2012, even as they signed a treaty to promote civilian nuclear cooperation between the two countries.
The nuclear cooperation will, however, be subject to the safeguards agreement that India has to sign with the global nuclear watchdog, International Atomic Energy Agency.
In all, the two countries signed five agreements, including two for joint cooperation in science, at the end of the official leg of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit.
Extending support: French President Nicolas Sarkozy said India must have access to civilian nuclear energy to sustain its high growth rate.
The two sides also discussed investment proposals of €10 billion over the next three years in retail, transport, trade and energy. The average of €3 billion worth of investments being envisaged per year is several times the current investment average of €67 million per year for French investments in India.
At present, India permits 51% foreign direct investment, or FDI, in single-brand retail. Several global retail chains, including France’s Carrefour SA, have been keen to enter the Indian markets.
Currently, India allows foreign retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Carrefour to own 100% cash-and-carry subsidiaries that sell to businesses. It doesn’t allow full ownership of multi-brand stores selling to individuals.
According to a commerce ministry official, who did not wish to be identified, the two sides had also discussed the proposal of French energy major Areva SA to invest in the energy sector here.
“The discussions mainly looked at past trends in bilateral trade and identified future trends. In particular, transport and energy were in focus. Areva’s interest in investing in our energy sector is a big plus from today,” said Ficci secretary general Amit Mitra, welcoming the announcements by the two leaders and expressing confidence that individual companies from France and India would reach a common meeting ground.
Currently, bilateral trade between the two countries aggregates €4.5 billion, with France enjoying a trade surplus of €1.8 billion.
The proposed cooperation in civilian nuclear technology was made in the context of providing “an expression” of the strategic partnership between the two countries.
Noting that the two countries wanted to “broaden and boost” their partnership in atomic field, the joint statement said: “To this end, France and India have finalized negotiation in regard to reaching a bilateral agreement for civil nuclear cooperation.”
The agreement will form the basis of wide-ranging bilateral cooperation from basic and applied research to full civil nuclear cooperation, including reactors, it said.
This included an agreement between India’s department of atomic energy and the French Atomic Energy Commission to build and operate a reactor in France. Another MoU between a joint delegation of the BARC-TIFR (Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and Tata Institute of Fundamental Research) and the French heavy ion accelerator facility Ganil for the use of a high-energy beam production system will be signed separately in Mumbai.
France’s support of India’s nuclear programme was also expressed by Sarkozy when he said that India “must have access to civil nuclear energy to sustain its high growth rate” and that India had no objectionable record of nuclear proliferation against its name.
The French President also supported India’s bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat.
Meanwhile, BJP leader and leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani, after his meeting with Sarkozy, said he welcomed France’s nuclear agreement with India and its support for the country’s UNSC bid.
PTI contributed to the story.