India and France, two nations with a common vision and shared values, have forged a strong and enduring partnership over the past 25 years. In 1998, they embarked on a strategic journey, marking the beginning of a remarkable alliance that encompasses not only a robust bilateral relationship but also a convergence of views on international affairs.  

The economic ties between India and France have flourished, paving the way for enhanced cooperation and mutual prosperity. Trade relations have witnessed steady growth, with bilateral trade reaching an impressive $13.4 Bn in 2022-23, marking a significant 7.72% increase from the previous year. France has emerged as the 11th largest investor in India, with FDI inflow of $10.5 Bn from April 2000 to March 2023. This economic synergy has fostered linkages between French businesses and the Indian economy, contributing significantly to India's vision of becoming ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’. 

What is pertinent to note is that the India-France partnership extends beyond economics, encompassing cooperation in historically critical areas such as aerospace, defence and space and emerging sectors such as smart cities and allied infrastructure. As part of Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s historic state visit to France from 13-14th July, strategic deliberations were held during the 11th India-France CEO Forum to encourage the utilization of investment opportunities in these sectors and foster greater manufacturing and ease of doing business. 

Defence cooperation serves as the keystone of this strategic alliance. The armed forces of both nations engage in joint exercises to enhance interoperability and coordination. France has been a valuable ally in India's defence modernization efforts, highlighted by the acquisition of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft in 2016 and the P-75 Scorpene project, with the construction of six submarines. Hon’ble Prime Minister’s presence as Guest of Honour at the Bastille Day celebrations further reinforced these bilateral ties, potentially leading to a significant defence deal involving the acquisition of Dassault’s Rafale-M fighter jets for the Indian Navy's newly commissioned indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant. The defence partnership also reached new heights with declarations made to continue and reinforce the 15-year submarine building cooperation. Moreover, the approval granted by the French Government for Safran to collaborate on the design, development, and manufacture of advanced multi-role combat aircraft engines symbolizes the mutual trust and commitment between the two nations.  

India and France have nurtured a remarkable partnership in the field of aerospace research and space exploration, fostering innovation, technological advancements and mutual growth. Two notable collaborations include the creation of the Indo-French Centre for Aerospace Research and Innovation (IFCAR), aimed at promoting R&D in aerospace technologies, and the several joint research programs and satellite launches by the French Space Agency (CNES) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). France has also provided technical assistance in the construction of the Sriharikota launch-pad, cementing a longstanding bond in the pursuit of space exploration and technological advancement. 

The two countries have also embarked on a fruitful collaboration in the domain of smart cities, forging a strong partnership to harness the potential of technology and innovation in urban development. This collaboration is based on shared goals of sustainability, efficiency, and improving the quality of life for citizens – which are also the main objectives of the Smart Cities Mission launched by the Hon’ble Prime Minister in 2015. Together, the two countries have undertaken ambitious initiatives and projects. The French Development Agency (AFD) recently extended a loan of EUR 100 Mn ($112 Mn) to support India's Smart Cities Mission, while Chandigarh, Puducherry, and Nagpur have previously been identified as key cities for joint development with a commitment of $2.2 Bn for the project.  

One of the most significant aspects of the India-France collaboration on smart cities is the development of the Chandigarh Smart City project. Chandigarh, which is a planned city, has become a hub of innovation through this partnership and has implemented various smart solutions, such as intelligent transportation systems, waste management systems and smart grids. In Nagpur, AFD has partly funded the city’s metro rail and the Nag River Front Development plan, along with investing in the introduction of electric vehicles. 

France's expertise in urban planning and architecture has been instrumental in shaping the vision of smart cities in India. Several French companies, along with Indian partners, have been involved in the planning and execution of smart city projects across the country. The collaboration extends beyond infrastructure and includes areas such as e-governance, citizen participation and data analytics. By leveraging France's experience and India's growing technological prowess, these smart city projects are transforming urban landscapes and improving the lives of millions. The India-France alliance on smart cities is a shining example of how international partnerships can pool resources and knowledge to drive innovation and shape a better future for urban communities. 

As we look ahead, the India-France relationship is poised for even greater heights as the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s state visit to France marked a turning point in the bilateral relationship. The partnership between India, the world's largest democracy, and France, a major European power, carries substantial weight in global affairs and serves as a platform for dialogue on regional and global challenges. Both countries recognize the strategic importance of continuing to enhance this partnership as role models for maintaining regional stability and paving the way for groundbreaking advancements across several sectors of global importance. 

This blog has been co-authored by Divyam Singh.

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