India-France strategic partnership: a crucial relationship for the 21st century

After the successful visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to France as the chief guest of the celebrations on July 14, 2023, India has invited the French President to be the chief guest of the Indian Republic Day parade on January 26, 2024. This is the sixth time that France has received this award , a record for a country. This will be the fourth high-level meeting between the two leaders in about six months, a testament to the strong and time-tested relationship between New Delhi and Paris.

This short two-day visit could be more symbolic than substantive, considering that several agreements were signed during Modi's visit to France in July last year and India is preparing to hold general elections in less than three months. Nevertheless, this visit is special because India is celebrating its 75th anniversarye Republic Day, where France and India celebrate 26 years of their strategic partnership, launched on January 26, 1998, on the occasion of the visit of French President Jacques Chirac as chief guest on the occasion of the Republic celebrations. This was India's first-ever strategic partnership with a country, embodying the fundamental vision of both countries to strengthen their respective strategic independence through strong and enhanced bilateral cooperation.

Macron's state visit to India in 2018 led to the signing of 14 intergovernmental agreements. According to my analysis, this visit provides a platform to reflect and review several signed agreements and accelerate their implementation. In addition, emphasis must be placed on deepening relations that go beyond the usual trident of defense, space and civil nuclear cooperation. Cooperation at the economic, academic and technological levels are three key areas in which relationships have enormous potential for development.

Develop trade between the two countries

Priority must be given to strengthening the economic partnership through trade and investment between the two nations, which is well below its potential. There are currently more than 1,000 French businesses in India. They generate total sales of $20 billion, employ 300,000 people and have a stock portfolio of at least $19 billion. 39 of the 40 CAC 40 companies are present in India. In contrast, more than 2,000 German companies are present in India and have invested more than $13.6 billion in the Indian economy between 2000 and 2022. France is India's fifth largest trading partner in the EU, behind the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Italy. Bilateral trade in goods between the two countries increased from $11.9 billion in 2018-19 to $13.8 billion in 2022-23. Trade between India and France is less than half of that with Germany.

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Develop education

The education sector is another growing area of ​​collaboration. In recent years, the mobility of Indian students going to France has increased. France has set a target of admitting 30,000 Indian students by 2030. To achieve this goal, Indian students with a master's degree from a French university are granted a short-stay Schengen visa of five years.

The UGC, a statutory body under the Indian Ministry of Education, recently issued regulations for the entry of foreign higher education institutions into India. Many French institutions need to take advantage of this opportunity to establish campuses in India or establish partnerships with leading Indian institutions.

In the field of science and technology, France has become India's eighth scientific partner with 25 French research and development (R&D) centers in the country. In January, the second meeting of the Franco-Indian Joint Committee on Science and Technology (JCST) was held in New Delhi to discuss ways to promote a stronger and more dynamic Franco-Indian scientific partnership. The introduction of Indian digital payment systems such as the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) in France enables seamless cross-border transactions. The two countries successfully cooperate in the areas of smart cities, railways, renewable and clean energy, agribusiness, logistics, etc.

energy

The visit must produce substantial results and focus on the objectives to be achieved, with the specific aim of increasing trade and investment. One such area is to streamline and capitalize on the ongoing India-EU Free Trade Agreement negotiations. Under the French EU presidency from January to June 2022, trade negotiations between India and the EU resumed after years of disruption. The other goal is to put into practice the agreements concluded between the two nations. A good example of this is the long-planned 9,000 MW Jaitapur nuclear reactor project, which is expected to be the largest nuclear power generation project in the world. EDF and the Indian operator (NPCIL) must quickly resolve differences over technical, financial and liability issues that have delayed the project.

tourism

The two countries should facilitate visas, air connectivity and cultural exchanges, which will help boost the tourism sector. In July 2023, the two leaders adopted a roadmap entitled “Horizon 2047: Shaping the future of the India-France strategic partnership,” which sets the course for the next 25 years. This roadmap includes three pillars of partnership: for security and sovereignty, for the planet and for people. In addition, the two countries cooperate successfully in the areas of combating terrorism, maritime security, sustainable development, climate change, digitalization and cybersecurity, among other areas.

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As strategic partners, India and France largely agree on a wide range of regional and global issues. Both countries firmly claim their strategic autonomy despite their close ties with the Western world. France's unwavering support for India in various multilateral forums, be it its support for the permanent seat of the United Nations Security Council, its candidature for India's membership in the four multilateral export control regimes, namely the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime etc. Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group and its positioning as a key partner in its Indo-Pacific strategy demonstrate this relationship, which is based on trust and mutual respect for each other's strategic concerns.

Given India's growing economic power in Asia and the entire Indo-Pacific region, France must seek to engage more with India to better protect its strategic interests. This strengthened friendship could be a defining partnership of the 21st centurye Century between East and West and an anchor of stability in this geopolitically unstable world.