This is Hollande’s first official visit to an Asian country since he was elected President of France last year. “This demonstrates the importance of this relationship to our two countries. India regards France as one of its most valued strategic partners. France has given us strong and steadfast support at difficult moments. We expressed satisfaction with the progress in our defence cooperation, which is poised to reach a qualitatively new level,” Singh said.
He added both sides vowed to implement the Jaitapur project soon. Under the civil nuclear cooperation deal signed between India and France in 2010, French firm Areva is building six third-generation pressurised water reactors for the project.
Hollande said cooperation in defence was the “pillar” of bilateral ties between India and France. On the Rafale deal, he said, “We did discuss the ongoing talks concerning Rafale aircraft with Prime Minister Singh. Talks are progressing well. But I will not put my weight on the deal, as it is a commercial negotiation.”
Expressing concern over the slow growth in bilateral trade, Hollande, on a two-day visit to India, also underscored the need for greater economic ties.
He said for greater trade with India, France was open to liberalising its markets further. “We need to open up our partnership and make it broad in the economic field. It is a matter of concern that we did not reach the bilateral trade target of Euro 12 billion; It stood at only Euro 8 billion last year,” he said.
Both sides agreed to jointly develop a short-range surface-to-air missile, once the Indian government gave this a go-ahead.
On the talks for a broad-based India-European Union trade and investment agreement, Hollande stressed the need for a balanced and beneficial pact.
Progress on the pact was also discussed separately by Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and his French counterpart Nicole Bricq. Sharma said the next round of negotiations on the deal would be held in March, and it was possible the talks would be concluded by April. Bricq said the trade pact was important for France.