New Delhi, Feb. 2: French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin is coming to India this weekend on a three-day official visit in an attempt to strengthen economic relations between the two countries.
Raffarin, who arrives in Bangalore on Friday to participate in the India aerospace show, will reach Delhi the next day, where he will meet his Indian counterpart, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and other senior leaders. The French Prime Minister will discuss a host of issues with the Indian leadership in an effort to strengthen bilateral relations.
Raffarin will head a business delegation, including chief executive officers of leading French business houses and representatives of the medium- and small-scale sectors. He will also address captains of Indian industry at meetings organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Bangalore and Delhi.
France will hold a three-month-long “French Season” in Indian cities, including Bangalore, Calcutta, Chennai, Delhi and Hyderabad, almost simultaneously with the visit.
Apart from organising cultural programmes and launching well-known brands of perfumes and wines, France will also hold seminars on environment protection, waste and water management to make Indians aware of its strength in these areas. “It will give a chance to sell France to the people of India, while making the French industry and people interested in India,” a French diplomat said.
Raffarin and the Indian leadership will discuss, among other topics, a possible US-led military action against Iraq, India’s deteriorating relations with Pakistan, the recent visit to India by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and other important regional and international issues.
Economic cooperation between the sides, however, will remain the main thrust of the discussions.
India’s relations with France started improving after French President Jaques Chirac came on a state visit in 1998. Chirac was also the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations. Subsequently, France played an important role in blocking the imposition of international sanctions in wake of the Pokhran II nuclear tests.
Despite the growing closeness at the political level, the two countries have not been able to translate it into economic terms.
French businessmen have been making investments and setting up businesses in China. “The interest in China has been obsessive,” a French policy expert said. Raffarin would try and make French bankers and industrialists interested in India, he added.
Many French investors are now getting interested in India, despite the fear of a nuclear holocaust in South Asia. The growth of information technology has fuelled interest in France about things Indian. The number of French tourists to India has also increased significantly in the past few years.
Although arms supply to Pakistan remains a sticky issue, France has kept its sale of military hardware to Islamabad to a minimum. Moreover, the French arms industry is looking at India as an investment destination.