French president Emmanuel Macron’s on-going four-day visit to India is significant in more ways than one and may turn out to be a watershed moment in Indo-French ties that have only flourished over time. President Macron’s statement on the $7.8 billion, 36 Rafale fighter planes deal with India has the potential to deflate the Congress party’s attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. Macron’s clean chit to the Modi government on the same fighter jets and suggesting that it is a win-win situation for both sides could be seen as a thumbs up for the Rafale deal. Importantly, it prepares the ground for closer defence, business and strategic ties between India and France.
The French government’s hint to make 100 more Rafale aircraft in India and transfer technology reflects maturing of the ‘security and strategic’ relations between the two countries spread over the last two decades. The joint communiqué released on Saturday portrays the roadmap for taking the strategic relations to the next level over one decade. Prime Minister Modi seems to have rolled out the red carpet for the young European leader in the making and understands his growing stature in the global arena especially with German Chancellor busy in managing internal governance issues and Great Britain’s exit from the 29-member EU. Personal chemistry between Macron and Modi was on open display during the bilateral talks, delegation level meetings, one on one talks.
It is not just the Rafale deal that reportedly figured prominently between the leaders. The joint communiqué and press interaction later also reflects France’s eagerness to retain India as its key partner in the Indian Ocean region. France’s wariness over the growing proximity between China and Russia seems to have played out while developing closer relations with India.
France being the only European country with huge a presence in the region makes the maritime and oceanic agreement between the two all the more vital. This would also make the sea lines safe for the movement of cargo having implications for trade in the region and keeping a check on the expansionist vision of China in Indian Ocean. Otherwise, the elaborate partnership on security between the two countries would not have been reflected in the communiqué.
From the exchange of top security information, maritime security, co-production of defence equipment to anti-terrorism forays jointly, the bilateral engagement has every ingredient one can possibly think of. Rafales, Scorpene submarines, nuclear reactors, co-development, production and supply of combat aircraft engines only add zest to the deep-rooted Indo-French ties that have been nurtured over decades.
Another big forum where the two seem to tango is the International Solar Alliance that came into being as part of the Paris climate change declaration. President Macron and Prime Minister Modi seem determined to take forward the green energy initiative notwithstanding the withdrawal of President Donald Trump from the global initiative. Both the leaders would do well in putting more emphasis on the modest economic and trade engagement that’s about $20 billion annually. Given the big-ticket defence and nuclear power deals, there is no reason why the French and Indian trade relations cannot touch $100 billion by 2020. As over 1,000 French businesses already have their presence in India, scaling this up exponentially is unlikely to be a difficult endeavour.
Some examples will help to highlight the scope for increased business relations between the two sides. Over 13 billion euros worth of business deals were concluded on Saturday, including the supply of aircraft engines by Safran to SpiceJet.
This shows the potential for both sides to exploit further. Given that India and France are very sensitive about balanced trade and not tariff-based trade wars as has been US President Trump’s strategy, Macron and Modi will have to take the lead in finalising the free trade agreement with the European Union, bilateral trade and investment treaties.