Remembering Chirac

C Jayanthi | Updated on October 02, 2019 Published on October 02, 2019

Jacques Chirac   -  REUTERS

Indo-French ties got a boost during his tenure

As France mourned the recent demise of its much-loved erstwhile President Jacques Chirac, it would do well to look at his policies that helped Indo-French economic relations. As desolation swept his country, a French citizen interviewed soon after his death by a television channel said Chirac focussed far more on foreign relations than domestic policy and was popular abroad.

Chirac served as the French president from 1995 to 2007 for two terms, and changed the dynamics of Indo-French relations as he believed in the “Look East Policy” and focussed on Asia. Chirac believed the need to trust each other as nations was primary to building economic ties. French investments in India expanded from a mere $2.5 million in 1991 to $70.2 million in 2000.

Importantly, when India conducted nuclear tests in 1998, France did not condemn India like other western nations did, nor impose economic sanctions like Japan and the US. This dramatically altered the way India viewed France. India realised that it had a friend in the international community. This, therefore, led to the strengthening of Indo-French relations both economically and politically.

As France had itself strived to pursue an independent nuclear policy, it understood India’s desire too. France, under Chirac, recognised India as one of the largest emerging markets in the world and therefore a key place for investments.

According to External Affairs Ministry figures of 2005, Indo-French bilateral trade amounted to €2.9 billion in 2004. India’s exports were about €1.6 billion, and India’s imports were €1.36 billion at the time. These figures show a growth of 25 per cent over the previous year. In 2004, the French foreign direct investment was about $760 million. It is interesting to note that before the political will shown by Chirac, France was lagging behind not just in terms of foreign direct investment, but also as far as trade was concerned.

In 1996, India was ranked 35th among countries exporting to France, with 0.41 per cent of French exports, and buying a mere 0.37 per cent of French exports. At that time, the overall economic ties between the two countries were not particularly upbeat.

The French president’s visit to India in 1998 was, therefore, a watershed as he came along with one of the biggest corporate delegations ever and changed the politico-economic dynamics of the relationship. It must be noted that Rajiv Gandhi’s inclination towards technology and business when he was in power between 1984 and 1989 was taken note of in Paris. India’s image also improved in France considerably by the structural economic reforms launched by the PV Narasimha Rao’s government in the 1990s.

Subsequently, the visit by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in September 1998, underscored the importance that New Delhi gave to the growing warmth between the two countries. Chirac responded in kind and was the first western leader to invite India and other emerging countries to the G8 summit in Evian, France. All these initiatives had far-reaching consequences and eventually led to a much stronger economic relationship between the two countries flowing into the current times

Political will is crucial to developing and strengthening ties that may have been stagnant for a while. In the case of India and France, political will was the primary driver of economic ties and this is as it should be.

.The writer is currently guest faculty (French) at IIT Madras

Published on October 02, 2019
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