New Delhi, March 7 (IANS) The already strong ties between India and France are set to deepen further when French President Emmanuel Macron comes on a four-day visit to India starting on Friday during the course of which he will also co-chair the founding conference of the International Solar Alliance (ISA).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold a bilateral summit with Macron on Saturday following which several agreements across various sectors are expected to be signed.
On Sunday, the two leaders will co-chair the founding conference of the India-initiated ISA which was launched by Modi and then French President Francois Hollande during the Paris climate summit in 2015.
French sources here said on Wednesday said that the two countries’ partnership on the climate change front, the Strategic Partnership they share, and people-to-people ties will be the three key aspects in terms of bilateral relations during the visit.
Macron, it is learnt, has been preparing for long for the visit, which will be his first ever to India, and it has been in the works ever since Modi, during his visit to Paris in June 2017, extended an invitation.
Modi’s visit itself was unexpected and was planned at very short notice — he had made a state visit to France in 2015 — and unusual in terms of the European nation’s protocol but was highly appreciated by the French side more so because this meeting, the first between the two leaders, came less than a month after Macron assumed office.
The meeting also came about just 10 days after US President Donald Trump announced that his country would pull out of the Paris climate agreement.
It was under such circumstances that the Indian leader extended his invitation and it was decided that when Macron visits India, it would not be limited to the bilateral aspect but should have a much larger connotation. Hence, the founding conference of the ISA.
According to the sources, France and India are keen to cooperate much more in the areas climate change, solar power and clean and renewable energy.
On Monday, the last the day of his trip, Macron will inaugurate Uttar Pradesh’s largest solar power plant at Mirzapur near Varanasi made by the French company, Engie Solar.
Macron’s visit also comes on the 20th anniversary of the India-France relationship being elevated to that of a Strategic Partnership. It was in 1998 that this elevation was made and India is France’s first Strategic Partnership in the region.
According to the sources, the Strategic Partnership is not just about two key words as France sees India as a global partner and not as a regional partner.
France played a “decisive” role in India’s accession to three of the four export control regimes — the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group — and is openly supporting India’s membership in the fourth, the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
The fight against terrorism and the security challenges the two countries face form an important aspect of the Strategic Partnership and these are expected to come up in Saturday’s discussions.
In terms of maritime cooperation, the two countries are working together for peace and stability in the Indian Ocean region.
Though France is not against the recently revived quad of India, the US, Japan and Australia that seeks to work for peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, Paris would rather like to work with New Delhi bilaterally in the Indian Ocean region given that there around two million French citizens in its territories in the region.
Space cooperation is another aspect of the Strategic Partnership and Macron’s visit is expected to add momentum to this, according to the sources.
People-to-people ties will also be under focus and over 250 academics from the two countries will attend a two-day seminar during the course of the French President’s visit.
There are around 5,000 Indian students in French universities and Macron, the sources said, is looking forward to a town hall interaction with Indian youth scheduled for Saturday here.
Trade between the two countries will also come up for discussion. Bilateral trade between the two sides reached $10.95 billion in 2016-17, and, according to the sources, this rose by a further 20 per cent in the last one year.
During the presidential visit, an India-France CEOs Forum will also be held which will be attended by around 40 CEOs each from both sides.
The ISA founding conference on Sunday is expected to be attended by 55 countries of which 25 are expected to be represented at head of state or head of government level.
According to the sources, with access to solar technology being extremely difficult, there will be a clear expression of the needs of the smaller countries during the conference.