Francois Richier: France believes in India — and in growth plus justice in Europe, 26 August 2013
Francois Richier is France’s ambassador to India. Speaking with Srijana Mitra Das, Richier discussed French interests in India, its position in the EU — and how he feels France remains unique:
How important is India to France?
For us, India is one of the most important partners in the world today. What strikes me when I talk with fellow French citizens is India is always associated positively, because of its culture, its population’s cleverness, their education. At a political level, across party lines, India for us is a friend through good and bad times. We believe that’s the same perception on the Indian side.
In today’s world, it’s not too common to count on friends.
Speaking of whom, how is France managing ties with Germany after your change of leadership?
The key message of our new government was growth and justice. For a social democrat government, the balance between those is very important, so we don’t only focus on fiscal discipline in the EU but also ensure sufficient growth to reduce unemployment.
I think that message has been heard. It’s true there had been some discussions between France and Germany on how to take the agenda forward. But, on both sides of the Rhine, we know we need to agree.
If there is no Franco-German agreement, there is no European position.
Meanwhile, how are France’s business ties with India in defence, nuclear energy, etc, faring?
Those two areas are actually pillars of our strategic partnership as agreed on in 1998. There’s collaboration there but interestingly, a very big element of Indo-French business is French investment in India’s civilian sector. We recently surveyed the 350 French companies present in India plus their 400 subsidiaries and found the total amount of French investment is now approaching $18 billion — that’s probably among the three largest investors in India. Japanese and American investments, from much larger economies, should be around 20. Also, we have roughly the same figure for China, a much bigger economy than India.
This level of investment shows the strength of Indo-French business, even apart from government areas.
Indian business is currently facing problems here — what about France?
Well, some of our companies here are very old, one arriving in the 1860s while a defence company signed its first agreement here in 1953. But the opening up of the Indian economy in the 1990s certainly facilitated more French companies to come. Just the last two years have seen an investment of more than $1 billion.
My sentiment is that French companies are satisfied but conditions can always be improved in aspects like energy supply, which is sometimes very difficult. In areas like French wine, conditions to enter the Indian market are extremely difficult. Custom taxes are extremely high, to which you often add state taxes — so, a bottle of French wine will probably be tripled in price and the growing Indian middle class won’t even be able to afford the lowest quality French wine. We hope once the EU-India Free Trade Agreement is concluded, those tariffs will be reduced to reasonable ones. But overall, French interests continue coming and working on improving research and development and higher education. Indian students in France are growing and we’ll have a special package for them like scholarships, post-degree visas and help, so they can find jobs in French companies investing in India.
Given the economic backdrop, isn’t helping students find jobs rather unique?
Ah — but France is unique.
This interview of H.E. François Richier, Ambassador of France to India to Srijana Mitra Das appeared in "The Times of India" on 26 August 2013 .