New Delhi: India and France on Saturday outlined concrete steps to broaden the scope of their 20 year-old strategic partnership, signing 14 pacts in areas ranging from defence, security, nuclear energy to the protection of classified information besides agreeing to hold biennial summits between top level leaders of the two countries and an annual bilateral defence dialogue.

The two sides also resolved to deepen cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, signing a pact on the provision of reciprocal logistics support between their armed forces.

To boost economic ties, India and France were looking at holding an annual ministerial dialogue to deepen cooperation in the economic and financial sectors, a joint statement said.

These followed talks between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron in New Delhi on Saturday. Macron, who arrived in India late Friday, is on his first visit to Asia’s third largest economy since his election as president of France last year.

Describing France as one of India’s most trusted defence partners, Modi said that the pact on reciprocal logistics support between the armed forces of the two countries was a “golden step" in bilateral defence cooperation.

In his remarks, Macron said that the interests of India and France were “aligned." “We want India as our first strategic partner here, and we want to be India’s first strategic partner in Europe, and even in the western world," he further added.

On defence ties, Macron noted that “India had made a sovereign decision in this respect (buying Rafale fighter jets from France) and we are monitoring the progress in the field. We very much want to continue the programme. It is a long-term contract which is mutually beneficial. I personally consider it as the heart of the strategic partnership."

India had signed a government-to-government deal with France in 2016 to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of about the Rs58,000-crore. The main opposition Congress party has been demanding details of the deal, alleging that the deal negotiated when it was in government between 2004-2014 was much cheaper than the contract signed by the Modi government.

On maritime security, Macron said noted that the two countries would have “unprecedented" level of cooperation to ensure peace and stability in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. The space agencies of both countries will have a joint monitoring mechanism for developments in the maritime sphere, while navies of India and France will share intelligence and contact their respective military bases for any requirement.

Macron also said effectively containing threats of terrorism and radicalisation are going to be key elements in the strategic cooperation between the two countries. He particularly talked about the threat of Islamist terrorism.

Among the agreements signed was one that provides for a way forward in implementing the Jaitapur nuclear power project. The two countries also inked pacts for cooperation in other areas, including railways, environment, solar energy, maritime awareness and checking trafficking of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.

A joint statement released after the Modi-Macron talks said the two leaders had agreed to deepen the strategic partnership and take it to a new level by “agreeing to hold biennial summits between the Prime Minister of India and the President of the French Republic." “Both sides also agreed to create an annual defence dialogue at the ministerial level," the statement said adding the pact on “the Exchange and Reciprocal Protection of Classified or Protected Information" reflected the high level of strategic trust between the two countries.

On cooperation in the Indian Ocean region, the statement said, “this cooperation will be crucial in order to maintain the safety of international sea lanes for unimpeded commerce and communications in accordance with the international law for countering maritime terrorism and piracy, for building maritime domain awareness, for capacity building and for greater coordination in regional/international fora in the region."

Modi and Macron welcomed the signing of the agreement for the “provision of reciprocal logistics support between their Armed Forces," which seeks to extend logistical support on reciprocal access to respective facilities for Indian and French armed forces, the statement said. “The agreement is symbolic of the strategic depth and maturity reached in India-France defence ties," it added.

Modi and Macron looked “forward to continue their discussions to expand and deepen the ongoing defence manufacturing partnerships," the statement said. “They acknowledged that the Make-in-India initiative offers a valuable opportunity for Indian and French defence enterprises to enter into arrangements for co-development and co-production of defence equipment in India, including through transfer of know-how and technologies to the mutual benefit of all parties," it said.

On civil nuclear cooperation, the statement said “the two leaders reiterated the goal of commencing works at the Jaitapur site around the end of 2018" and encouraged their respective companies “to accelerate the contractual discussions in that respect."

“Once installed, the Jaitapur project will be the largest nuclear power plant in the world, with a total capacity of 9.6 GW (gigawatt)," the statement said.

Modi and Macron also emphasized the need for the “project to generate cost-effective electricity; economical and competitive financing package from the French side; reliable, uninterrupted and continued access to guaranteed fuel supply for the lifetime of the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plants; and collaboration on transfer of technology and cost-effective localization efforts of manufacturing in India. The latter includes transfer of rights on technology to be mutually agreed," it added.

The statement also welcomed the signing of a bilateral partnership agreement on migration and mobility, “which will facilitate student and professional mobility between France and India by simplifying the conditions for entry and long term stay in the two countries."

On economic exchanges, the statement said that both sides had set a target of €15 billion for trade in goods by 2022. “They encouraged SMEs and mid-cap companies to play a growing role in the economic and commercial exchanges between the two countries," the statement said.

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