India, France ink 14 pacts

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron looked to elevate the India-France partnership to a new level, inking 14 agreements in areas like defence, nuclear energy, maritime security, space and education in an engagement that showcased growing mutual confidence.

The strategic vision in the relationship — that included a strong convergence on the Indian Ocean Region and a vision for cooperation in space — could even eclipse ties that India has enjoyed with a trusted friend like Russia. It would not be a stretch to say that France, a permanent member of the UN Security Council with a sophisticated defence industry, is the only other country with which India works in as many areas as the US. In a first time with any G-7 country, India and France decided to recognise each other’s university degrees, which will be a huge help for students going to France for higher studies or for employment.

Modi met Macron at the airport in Delhi, breaking from protocol that has been reserved for select guests and is a benchmark for the ‘Indian welcome’. Addressing the media after discussions with Macron, Modi said he considered an agreement on reciprocal logistics between Indian and French armed forces a “golden step” and welcomed participation in Make in India.

Macron reciprocated, “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.” Reaffirming their commitment to take India-French ties to a higher plane, the two leaders agreed to hold biennial summits, a joint statement said.

Modi laid out three important areas of cooperation. Apart from the defence relationship, he singled out the joint strategic vision for cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region and agreements to recognise each other's education qualifications and on migration and mobility partnership.

In an agreement that will have far-reaching implications for the global security equations, the two countries agreed to reciprocal logistics support between both armed forces including the navies. In the spirit of the Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement pact with the US, Indian and French forces will be able to access each other’s ports and bases in the Indian Ocean Region.

France is the second country after the US, with which India has a “vision” document on the Indian Ocean. Seen together with another pact to protect classified information, the security agreement will open the space for much closer cooperation in the strategic sphere.

Clearly done with a view to countering growing Chinese power in the region, the agreement will be a force multiplier for India. Macron asserted that sea lanes cannot be places for hegemonic power play. With Macron pushing for a greater French role in the EU and the world, the complementarities between India and France are increasing. The summit also served to push the deal for EDF to build 6 nuclear reactors in Jaitapur, a deal stuck on pricing and liability issues.

The two countries signed an “Industrial Way Forward Agreement” between NPCIL and EDF — a move expected to bring down the cost that made French nuclear power very expensive. It also cements an “understanding” on Indian liability rules, which was one of the reasons for the delay.

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