New Delhi, Jan 26: India has called for building ties with France on three pillars of academic exchanges, scientific and technical cooperation in high technology, and industrial cooperation through direct investment.
Speaking at India-France economic conference here last evening, Union Minister for Commerce and Industry Kamal Nath said the country views France as an important source of technology for its industries. He said bilateral trade between India and France has more than trebled in the last 16 years and over this period, Indian exports to France have increased four-fold while the imports doubled. France is the 8th largest investor in the country.
Though French companies have been active here in construction and engineering sectors, yet bilateral trade is pegged at just six billion dollars and French investments represent 1.48 per cent of foreign direct investment (FDI) to India. Netherlands, UK and Germany have brought in more FDI inflows to the country, he added.
However, Mr Nath said the two countries have now started making progress on a number of fronts. In the healthcare sector, collaborative work has started in the areas of clinical research, therapeutic research, and public health research. Eight joint collaborative projects between Indian and French scientists are in progress and eight projects have been successfully completed.
He said France and India are also setting up three international Associated Laboratories (IAL) in the field of neurosciences, nano-materials and organic chemistry. There is also a proposal to set up an Indo-French Institute of Science and Water.
''We are also looking to pact cooperation in space,'' he said, adding that the French are now actively wooing Indian companies, and last year their investment channel - Invest in France Agency, identified 300 Indian companies which have the potential in France.
He suggested the French agency to involve Indian business and industry associations such as Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) to formalise entry of Indian companies to France.
On 66 competitiveness clusters, being set up in France in emerging technological sectors such as nanotechnologies, biotechnologies and microelectronics, the minister said many Indian companies would be interested in investing in these clusters.
He said the country would like to emulate France's research eco-system to scale up and make its knowledge and technology sectors globally competitive, adding that the value of research and development (R&D), now estimated at 8.5 billion US dollars, will touch 27.5 billion US dollars by 2010.
In the last few years, over 280 Fortune-500 companies across IT, telecom, biotechnology, chemicals, automobiles, consumer goods and pharmaceuticals have set up their R&D hubs in India, he added.
Listing agricultural sector as an important area of cooperation, Mr Nath said India will like to replicate the French Agropole, an extremely strong network of small and medium sized enterprises in the agro food processing sector in Agen town in Southern France.
The country's agro sector needs to learn from French companies in Agen, which are high achievers and are completely responsive to the requirements of the domestic and world markets and known for their constant evolution, he said while underlining the need to develop a similar structure in India quickly.
The Minister urged France to look at India's small and medium sector much more closely, saying French small and medium sized firms will find a similar business culture prevailing in the country.
He said, ''We are also interested in collaborating with French companies on energy management.'' Recollecting the work done by the French company GTME in 1997, in four-laning of a 60-km stretch of Delhi-Jaipur highway, Mr Kamal Nath invited French companies to become a partner in India's infrastructure development in a big way, especially in developing high-speed rail segments.