The visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to France on 13-14 July defined a new era in already-strong bilateral ties between the two countries. The Prime Minister’s official visit to France was significant as well as special, as it also marked the 25th anniversary of the India-France Partnership.
During the visit, the importance of the partnership was highlighted in how it sought to address global challenges, including climate change, clean energy, health, food security, and development, among others. These would also have major outcomes for businesses and the bilateral economic partnership will benefit long into the future.
India and France share long-standing cultural, trade and economic linkages. The India-France strategic partnership, signed in 1998, has gathered significant momentum over time and has today evolved into an even closer multifaceted relationship that spans diverse areas of cooperation, including defence, security, energy, space, education, the environment, trade and people-to-people ties, among many others.
The India-France economic partnership has witnessed steady and robust bilateral trade and investment relations over the years, which have strongly rebounded post the pandemic. Bilateral trade reached a new peak at $13.4 billion in 2022-23, with exports from India crossing $7 billion. Indian imports are also significant and stood at around $5.8 billion during 2022-23. On the investment front, France is India’s 11th largest foreign investor and recorded a cumulative investment of $10.5 billion in India between April 2000 and March 2023.
The Future of India-France Strategic Partnership
The ambitious ‘Horizon 2047 Roadmap: Charting the future of India-France Strategic Partnership’ was adopted to set the next course of the relationship till 2047, the year India will celebrate the centenary of its independence. The roadmap is founded on three critical pillars of partnership: for security and sovereignty, for the planet, and for people. It embodies several notable initiatives.
First, France has been a key defence partner for India and cooperation in this field has been a mainstay of the India-France partnership. Significant outcomes which will further strengthen defence ties include the setting up of an Indian technical office of the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) at the Indian embassy in Paris, expanding cooperation in co-production and co-development of new technologies, and the joint manufacture of key military platforms for friendly third countries. Given India’s deep defence engagement with French industry, spin-off effects will expand our defence manufacturing capabilities and technologies.
Two, the signing of several MoUs for strategic cooperation in space, sustainability and science and technology are set to create progressively advanced collaborations. Noteworthy initiatives were undertaken for jointly addressing economic challenges in outer space, such as the setting up of a bilateral strategic dialogue and the Trishna satellite project to boost cooperation in satellite services.
An MoU between our National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) under the ministry of earth sciences and a French sea research institute IFREMER on collaborative research projects in areas such as the Deep Ocean Mission and exchange of scientific and technical expertise is a welcome move and will bolster bilateral scientific cooperation. This is also likely to translate into business opportunities in times to come.
Three, sustainability is a cornerstone of the India-France partnership and was a prominent focus of discussions. A joint commitment to eliminate single-use plastics product pollution and a ban on single-use plastic products is a notable global precedent and will go a long way to advance the ecological agenda of both sides.
Four, a slew of digital initiatives covering diverse areas including strengthening of digital public infrastructure, AI, cybersecurity, 5G/6G telecom and digital skills will strengthen digital cooperation. The launch of India’s UPI digital payment mechanism in France was a very significant move, and not just a big step forward in the partnership, but also a signal to the world of the UPI platform’s potential. The digital partnership will also boost tourism and bilateral trade by fostering greater economic and financial engagement.
Five, the announcement of granting long-term five-year visas to Indian students pursuing higher education in France and our invitation to French universities for opening campuses in India will bolster educational ties and strengthen cultural and people-to-people exchanges. The private sector will have an important role to play in encouraging public-private collaborations in academia and facilitating the creation of courses, while also enhancing capacity, learning and skills and promoting student exchange programmes.
Six, the economic dimension of ties got priority as Prime Minister Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron addressed a group of leading Indian and French CEOs from diverse sectors. Sectors like climate action, energy transition, green transport and infrastructure, construction technologies, aeronautics, defence, automotive, life sciences, agriculture, financial services, and information and communication technology present opportunities for further collaboration and deepening engagement between businesses.
India’s conducive and liberal FDI policy regime along with a series of recent interventions in sectors such as infrastructure, digital payments, startups, IT and renewable energy provide many investment opportunities to French investors.
Finally, joint efforts to strengthen maritime security, the setting up of an Indo-French health campus, finalization of the Indo-Pacific Triangular Development Cooperation Fund for the creation of disaster resilient infrastructure, and promoting startups in the areas of clean and renewable energy will all be critical in securing economic security and a better balance in the region.
The emerging geopolitical world order presents many opportunities as well as challenges. India and France have undertaken consistent efforts towards broadening their partnership to jointly address these. Prime Minister Modi’s visit to France delivered many concrete and successful outcomes that should pave the way for economic and business ventures.
This article was first published in The Mint on 17 July 2023.