France optimistic about N-deal, business with India

By Manish Chand, IANS

New Delhi : In spite of bleak forecasts, France is optimistic that the Indo-US nuclear deal, which promises to bring in billions of dollars for the French nuclear industry, will “eventually happen”.

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“We are optimistic. The deal will eventually happen,” Philippe Favre, French ambassador for international investment and head of the government-run Invest in France Agency, told IANS here.

“We want India to reach all international agreements to make the deal effective. France can’t unilaterally do nuclear business with India,” said Favre ahead of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to India in January next year. Sarkozy will be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day function Jan 26.

“Given the burgeoning needs of India and the pace of economic growth, India has no choice but to go for nuclear energy. The answer lies with India,” said Favre, when asked if the stalling of the nuclear deal because of domestic politics will impinge on New Delhi’s credibility.

But even if the deal does not go through in the short term, France, the world’s leader in nuclear technology and which depends on nuclear power for 83 percent of its energy needs, is banking on India’s economic growth to make the deal possible.

France was one of the first few countries that supported the landmark nuclear deal that aims at ending India’s nuclear isolation after a gap of nearly three decades.

The stalling of the deal will not have any impact on the surging enthusiasm of the French business and industry for India, Favre stressed.

“Civil nuclear energy is a small part of the total economic potential between India and France,” he said.

Unveiling plans of attracting more Indian investment in France, he said the Invest in France Agency (IFA) has set up an office in New Delhi. It will target 300 Indian IT and pharmaceutical companies with business ambitions in France and Europe.

Favre was in India recently to promote France as the Mecca of business and a gateway to the single European market of over 500 million consumers.

Favre, however, rued that the advantages of the single European market and investing in France were not adequately appreciated in India. Not many in India knew that France has not only 63 million consumers but also gets 79 million cash-rich tourists every year.

A slew of economic reforms like tax credit on research and development projects and liberal visa regime, highly skilled labour, state-of-the-art infrastructure and utilities, low-cost energy and a business friendly environment are just some of the manifold attractions of doing business in France, he stressed.

“Many Indian companies want to go global and have ambitions of setting up base in Europe. We can expect India to become a major investor in France,” he said.

“Indian products have a reputation for quality. An Indian footwear company has sold more than 300,000 items in France in a year,” he recalled, adding that the two countries are set to nearly double their bilateral trade to $6 billion by 2010.

The French envoy also refuted reports of chauvinist reaction in France to the takeover of Arcelor, Europe’s largest steel maker, by Mittal Steel of London-based NRI billionaire Lakshmi Mittal last year.

“These reports have no feet to stand on. On the contrary, France is more than hospitable to foreign investment,” he said.

“At that time, the main concern in France was that Arcelor (a European company listed in Luxembourg) employed 27,000 French workers. The main concern in France was the future of workers,” he added.

“Mittal is now totally integrated into the French business set-up. Early this month he was appointed to the board of directors of Airbus parent EADS,” he said.

Around 2,500 French people are working for Indian-owned companies in France.