There has been a lot of curiosity on how the new Andhra Pradesh capital of Amaravati has been shaping up. Earlier this week, Ambassador of France to India, Alexandre Ziegler, visited the under construction capital with a delegation of businesspersons representing 12 French companies that included urban transportation firm Keolis, engineering services consultancy Egis, testing and certification company Bureau Veritas, 3D modelling firm Dassault Systems, electrical components firm Legrand, cement major Vicat and hospitality firm Accor Hotels, among others. They had discussions with Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu as well as representatives of the Andhra Pradesh Economic Development Board, Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority and Amaravati Metro Rail Corporation. In an exclusive interview with BusinessLine , Ziegler, who has visited the area earlier as well, shared his impressions.

What is the economic potential you see in this region? How does it compare in ease of doing business?

There is great economic potential in Andhra Pradesh. It has many assets, being a gateway to the east with ports, industrial hubs, fisheries, etc. This region is currently undergoing many transformations, with the development of certain industries, notably the chemical and pharmaceutical ones, as also ICT and biotechnology.

The Andhra Pradesh government has a very proactive policy to attract entrepreneurs and investors: building a network of cities (17 smart cities including four national smart cities), developing infrastructure (roads, ports, railways), facilitating procedures (21-day single-window approval), and so on. This has borne fruit, as Andhra Pradesh was ranked first among Indian States in ease of doing business by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, which is absolutely remarkable. French companies and institutions want to contribute to this development.

You led a French delegation to Amaravati in 2016 as well – what was the outcome of that visit? Any deals?

Indeed, I led a first French delegation to Amaravati in November 2016, with representatives of about 30 French companies. As a result of this visit, several projects have come through, and several companies that took part in this delegation have since signed MoUs, and even invested in Amaravati. There is, for example, Dassault Systèmes, which has decided to set up 50 training centres in Andhra Pradesh along with the Andhra Pradesh State Skill Development Corporation (APSSDC). This represents a ₹309-crore investment.

I had the privilege of inaugurating one of these Experience Centres with the Minister of Law and Skill Development of Andhra Pradesh, Kollu Ravindra, on December 10th. Dassault Systèmes is also in the process of developing a 3D-experience modelling and virtualisation centre for Amaravati to help decision-making in public policy and project monitoring.

Decathlon, a French leader in the sale of sports products, signed an MoU in 2017 with the Andhra Pradesh Government for the opening of three stores in Vijayawada, Amaravati and Visakhapatnam.

The engineering consultant company specialising in railways, Systra, drafted the Detailed Project Report of the metro project in Vijayawada.

Engineering and consulting groups Egis and Tractebel are PMC (project management consultants) for several building and infrastructure projects in Amaravati.

Engie, a world leader in the energy sector, is working on a cooling network project, while Legrand has won contracts for the electrification of certain projects. And there is the Novotel hotel that is now open to the public. Accor Hotels is now considering opportunities in Amaravati.

Apart from the French companies that are already doing business in India, has there been interest from new companies?

There are about 550 French companies currently employing around 360,000 people in India. All the companies that took part in our delegation to Amaravati are already established in India, making, investing and employing in this country.

Which are the sectors in which you think French companies can invest in India, in general — the areas they can come into?

India and France have a strong relationship in a wide variety of fields. Some sectors are especially dynamic for French companies: aviation, energy, smart cities, transportation, aerospace, IT, agriculture. During the visit of President Emmanuel Macron in March, France and India signed several major MoUs. For instance, we signed our first MoU on environment, which led to the first joint working group meeting in September in Paris. We also renewed our cooperation agreement on urban development, and established a railway forum whose first edition took place in April in Delhi.

How do you see India as unique or different from other markets?

France doesn’t see India as a market or a revenue as we have a strong conviction we are developing a long-term partnership. We invest, make and innovate in India. We already have a strong strategic partnership, but I believe that our companies, our students, our people have to do more together. Indeed, India is not a market, but our main partner in the region.