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France Is Moving Swiftly On Atomic Power Reactors At Jaitapur In Coming Months: French Ambassador Ziegler

France has submitted a complete techno-commercial offer to India for constructing six atomic power reactors to advance swiftly in the coming months

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From the Agreement of military logistics support to Garuda VI, an Indo- French military exercise, the Indian engagement with France is on the roll. BW’s Manish Kumar Jha speaks with French Ambassador Alexandre Ziegler on the full spectrum of issues from building six nuclear reactors to investment protection for further investments in India.

France became the second country, after the United States, to sign a military logistics support agreement with India, in March last year. What are we expecting now that will further redefine the India- France defence and security coopetition?
With a strategic partnership dating back to 1998, India and France have developed a strong defence and security cooperation over the years, based on mutual trust. This cooperation has gained new momentum under the leadership of Premier Minister Modi and President Macron. They share the same conviction: our strategic partnership is even more relevant today and needs to be developed to address the challenges of the 21stcentury, be it in the Indo-Pacific, in cyberspace or in space. This year again, we stood side by side to confront terrorism.France and Indian share common interests but also basic values and principles such as democracy and respect for the rule of law. This is why our two countries need to stand side by side and are prepared to further deepen their defence and security cooperation. 

The Industrial Way Forward Agreement was signed between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and the Electricite de France (EDF) last year for constructing six atomic power reactors. EDF has to provide sovereign guarantee for financial assistance to Jaitapur nuclear power plant. What is the status?
The signing of an Industrial Way Forward Agreement between NPCIL and EDF, during President Macron’s India visit last year for the construction of six EPR-type units in Jaitapur, Maharashtra, marked an important step, especially with regard to defining the industrial blueprint. Since then EDF and NPCIL have held intense discussions on the technical configuration, the commercial model, as well as a financing plan. December 15th last year saw another landmark with EDF submitting a complete techno-commercial offer to NPCIL. I’m sure this will enable us to advance swiftly in the coming months.

This project is very important for India’s economic development and combatting climate change. Six EPRs means a total capacity of almost 10 GW – and that’s a major contribution to India’s goal of producing 40% of its electricity from non-fossil fuels by 2030, in keeping with the commitment it had announced ahead of the Paris Climate Conference. Jaitapur will also contribute to “Make in India”, as it involves transfers of production, technology, joint research and training.

India and France working together to implement their action-oriental joint strategies for cooperation in IOR which was finalized in March 2018. Could you elaborate on the mechanism? 
France already has close maritime security cooperation with India: a political dialogue, a Maritime Security Dialogue, operational exercises, industrial partnerships and intelligence sharing. 

France will take over the rotating presidency of IONS in 2020. But even before this, as IOR country, France has maintained a permanent presence in the IOR.

And France will remain engaged in the Indo-Pacific and organise its presence to defend its interests, as French Defence Minister Florence Parly stated at the last Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. Three examples of this are the recent entry into force of our bilateral military logistics agreement with India, the sophisticated Indo-French naval exercise “Varuna” held in May off the coasts of Goa, Djibouti, and the forthcoming appointment of a French naval officer at the India’s Information Fusion Centre -Indian Ocean Region. Then there’s Garuda,the tactical Indo-French air exercise aimed at enhancing the interoperability of the French and Indian forces in air defence and ground attack missions. It has justconcluded in Mont-de-Marsan Airbase as it alternates between France and India, the Garuda VI edition has our respective aviators operating seamlessly under French and Indian command.

The Indo- French bilateral trade was worth 14 Billion Euros and that is much below the potential. Do we see any specific measures to maximize the potential?
Our bilateral trade has grown exponentially in recent years as it balanced out. Taking into accounts both goods and services, it stood above €14 billion over the last 12 months. 

Removing tariff and non-tariff barriers would not only help French companies cater to the needs of the Indian market, but also make it easier for them to invest in India, fuelling, in return, French demand for goods made in India. It bears reminding that India currently posts a larger surplus with France in trade in value-added than gross trade;

We are determined to continue our efforts to boost trade between our two countries and achieve the objective of € 20 billion in bilateral trade, set by Prime Minister Modi and President Macron during the latter’s State visit to India in March 2018.

Indo - EU FTA is stalled over tariff reduction and inclusion of social, environmental and human rights clauses. How does France look at these issues and will play as a catalyst to conclude the deal?
The current context is favourable for enhancing India-EU relations. And the EU is very much interested in India, as testified by the EU strategy on India published in November 2018.  

Concerning the EU FTA, we are committed to working towards a comprehensive and balanced agreement with India with sufficient level of ambition. In parallel, we should also seriously explore the idea of an agreement on investment protection, which would fit well with the Make in India policy for attracting further foreign investments in India. Sectoral economic dialogues should also go on, including on civil aviation, agriculture and IT, so as to make the most of our economic potential. I truly feel the time has come for a fresh and pragmatic look into these issues.  

After the first Investment conclave in Nagpur last year, another is planned in Goa- Franco-Goa Investment Conclave? What are the areas on investments that French companies are interested in India?
I would like to remind you that France is one of the leading stock investors in India (6th in the G20). The growth of French investments, which quadrupled in ten years, reflects both the dynamism of our relationship and the growing attractiveness of the Indian economy. 

I believe that there are numerous opportunities for cooperation and investment. For example, France and India hope that the upswingin trade in the digital sector will continue, given the significant bilateral investments made by many players in this sector. Companies such as Capgemini, Atos, Idemia, Dassault-Systèmes, Technicolor, Ubisoft and STMicroelectronics have contributed to the creation of 350,000 jobs and expanding India’s digital outreach. So have Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys andWipro, for instance, who have offices in France.

Sustainable urban development has been a French priority over the past few years in India, and there are more than 70 sectoral French companies located in India. Today, this French priority coincides more than ever with the objectives of the Modi government and our presence is expected to grow in the future. 

India has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to combatting climate change under the Paris Agreement. ManyFrench companies want to take advantage of this momentumto position themselves in the renewable energy sector in India.

French companies are also increasingly involved in vocational training in India. It is estimated that several hundred thousand people are trained every year in training centres, created or managed in partnership with French companies, such as Schneider, L'Oréal, and Dassault.

After the Govt. to Govt. deal of 36 Rafale, how do you look at the requirement of IAF 114 fighter aircrafts under MMRCA 2.0? How does France propose to substantially contribute to the aerospace ecosystem in India in the context of Dassault’s bid?
Regarding the IGA signed in September 2016 for the supply of 36 Rafale to the Indian Air Force, the programme is fully on track and the first aircraft will be delivered to the Indian Air Force in September this year, in accordance with the contractual schedule.

The Rafale has of course been proposed by Dassault Aviation to meet the new requirement of 114 multirole fighter jets for the Indian Air Force, with the full support of the French government. The Naval version of the Rafale, which is physically very close to the Air Force version, has also been proposed to meet the requirement of 57 embarked multirole aircraft for the Indian Navy. The Rafale is, in fact, the only modern combat aircraft in the world to have been developed and optimised from the outset to simultaneously meet these two complementary needs, for the Air Force and the Navy’s aircraft carriers. We are now looking forward to the next steps of these two ongoing competitions. Needless to say, it is up to the Indian Government to decide on the follow-up and select the most appropriate proposals to address its needs and priorities. We are confident in the strengths of our technical, operational and political offers to India in this sector, which is in keeping with the high-level partnership between our two countries.

As far as the industrial partnership is concerned, the Indo-French industrial cooperation in the aerospace and defence sector is already very developed and active. As a matter of fact, ‘Make in India’ has been a reality for the French industry for many years, particularly for equipment such as helicopters, missiles, submarines, aircraft engines and others. Building French-origin aerospace and defence equipment on Indian soil dates back to India’s Independence and this is being continuously strengthened.

Today, around 60 French aerospace companies are established in India and operate25 production facilities, which employ several thousand skilled workers across the country. These numbers will clearly grow in the years to come. There are, of course, the big groups like Airbus, Dassault Aviation, Thales, Safran and MBDA, but also increasingly MSMEs. The French aerospace industries have chosen India and will invest here in this goal. This strategic choice was evident at the Aero India air show in Bangalore last February. With 49 French companies present, and an array of military and civilian aircraft, France was, by far, the foremost foreign participant in the Exhibition. India’s industrial presence at the 53rd International Paris Air Show in June was also a success, with the presence of many CEOs from large- and small-scale Indian companies, public sector undertakings, such as HAL, as well as private sector companies such as Mahindra, Tata, SamvardhanaMotherson and many others.

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Alexandre Ziegler