India is completely reliable when it comes to G-20 methods, particularly in the field of international security and peace.
The dapper French envoy to India, Mr Jerome Bonnafont, is leaving New Delhi this week after a ‘happy and personally satisfying' four years. For him, India was not unfamiliar as he began his diplomatic career at the French Embassy in the Capital way back in 1986 as Second and later First Secretary. Asked about the high and low points of his diplomatic tenure in India, the envoy was quick to say: “I do not see any low points. But I am sad to leave India because it is a country I dearly love. I enjoy the culture, the people, its landscapes and monuments —all are special to my heart. This has been four wonderful years and I regret having to go”.
The Ambassador recounts “many great achievements including the agreements in the strategic domains, the two visits — of the French President, Mr Nicolas Sarkozy, to India and that of the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, to France in 2008 and 2009 — our space cooperation and the first French-Indian joint satellite Megha-Tropiques to be launched shortly, all of which are extremely fulfilling”.
Recalling his presence in Mumbai during the 26/11 terror attacks, Mr Bonnafont admired the fortitude and calm of the Mumbai people and has some special thoughts for al the victims, among them two French citizens, during those horrible days. “The city has recovered and the country is resilient against terrorism and has decided to fight without giving up democracy and freedom. This makes it very special to us”, he said, in a meeting with Business Line.
Excerpts from the interview:
How do you see your diplomatic work and record in India?
It has been a very active four years for bilateral relations with the two visits — of President Sarkozy to India and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to France. The President and the Prime Minister will meet again, maybe in Cannes, on the margins of the G-20 Summit in November. The French Prime Minister recently said that he hopes to be able to visit India soon. All these, at the highest level, reflect a highly fulfilling political relationship.
What we call our strategic dialogue is based on three pillars, which are improving. First is anti-terrorism and here we have made tremendous progress in operational cooperation against terrorism. France has always been on the side of India against international terrorism. The second pillar is our Defence relations, because we believe that France and India both contribute to peace and stability in the world.
Our Defence cooperation can improve and many programmes are ongoing between our armed forces for the equipment of Indian forces. Upgrade of Mirage 2000 has just been signed. A final decision is to be taken on India's medium Mutli Role Combat Aircraft procurement from the last two contenders. The French government fully supports the Dassault Rafale, which has demonstrated its capabilities in Afghanistan as well as Libya. Rafale is an exceptional plane with incredible efficiency in its mid-air capacity.
The third pillar is civil nuclear cooperation as we believe there is a need for India to ensure its energy security; nuclear energy for civilian use is a good option for that. We are proud to have been a key element of the nuclear agreement between India and the international community and we are happy to see our bilateral cooperation in that field improving extremely rapidly.
On the economic cooperation front, the growth of investment of French companies in India are on an uptrend at 10 billion euro, with such French companies as Michelin (tyres), Accor (hotel), Lafarge (cement), Renault and Peugeot (auto) all investing and building greenfield projects in India between 2008 and 2012. French firms employ 1.80 lakh Indians here.
Our bilateral trade is growing as we have set a target of 12 billion Euro by 2012. We may not reach the exact target but will be close to it because of rising Indian exports such as refined oil products and textiles to France, and French aeronautics, agro-foods and other products being imported by India.
Another area we focus on is Indian investment in France. We noticed two things. One, Indian companies were the first foreign investors in the United Kingdom and it proves that there is a tradition of Indian investment in Europe. Two, France is number one in Europe and number three in the world, after the US and China, for welcoming foreign investment which means that there is a huge amount of overseas investment in France.
We also believe our cultural, scientific and university cooperation is good but there is big room for improvement. We would like many more Indian students in France and many more French students in India.
On EU and French complaint about high duty on imported spirits by India, denying due market access to their popular beverages
It is one of the main points discussed in the free trade agreement (FTA) between India and the EU. It is important that the import duty structure makes it possible to export French wine to India which we believe is not at all against development of wine production in India.
In India wine is only two per cent of the total alcohol consumption and the rest is other alcohols. Wine is extremely marginal and there is vast room for improvement. We are convinced by our culture that one can have wine as a health drink when it is taken in reasonable quantities by knowing what you drink and how to drink it.
On nuclear safety and European pressurized reactors
India and France have reacted the same way to Fukushima in Japan; both countries are undergoing an intensive safety review of their reactor plants. As far as France is concerned, Areva and other nuclear operators have finished their inspections and given their reports to the safety agency, which will analyse them.
Both the government and the safety agency in France have conceded that there was no reason to stop the work of building European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) in France, Finland and China. This is simply because the design of EPR has jointly been done with the Safety Authority so that safety is improved in the exact areas in which Fukushima had revealed some vulnerability. We are going to discuss this with the Government of India for the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited-Areva proposed Jaitapur nuclear power project.
On India's proactive role in G-20 as France holds it's Presidency this year…
India has been an active contributor to all our priority areas of work in G-20 during French Presidency this year; we have had a fruitful debate with India reacting positively to our proposals, contributing, working and co-chairing some groups, in particular, on macroeconomic conditions for sustainable growth.
All these made India for us a full-fledged and extremely legitimate member of the G-20. We need now to have India as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
India proved that it is completely active and reliable when it comes to G-20 methods. It is the same in the field of international security and peace.