It is a great pleasure to meet all our friends from the media at the conclusion of my talks with Catherine Colonna, the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs. I appreciate that she has come to India very soon after assuming this responsibility. I think this is your first bilateral visit to Asia. We have, of course, already been in touch on the phone and we also met on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Bali in July.
2. As far as our relations with France are concerned, you are all aware that this is a strategic partnership. But perhaps even that term does not entirely capture how close and strong our ties have become in recent years. At the risk of quoting myself, let me underline that India sees France as a major power with a global outlook and an independent mindset. It is central to the emergence of multipolarity. And most important, France has been extremely responsive to India’s concerns and priorities. So in the last three decades, while the world has seen a lot of ups and downs, India’s relationship with France has continued to develop and intensify, holding a steady and clear course and I can say today really we are truly trusted partners. This has been particularly so in the last decade. Prime Minister Modi and President Macron have set high ambitions for our ties and expect them to be realized expeditiously.
3. It is natural when Foreign Ministers meet that our focus will be on the major international issues of the day. This is particularly so right now, given the turbulence caused by multiple stresses and challenges. Our conversation today covered many such concerns, among them the conflict in Ukraine, the tensions in the Indo-Pacific, the consequences of the Covid pandemic, the developments in Afghanistan and the prospects of the JCPOA. We also explored how our respective interests and that of the international community are better served by stronger India-French collaboration. The French have a long-standing presence on either extremity of the Indo-Pacific. Hearing Minister Colonna’s views and assessments of those regions was truly of great value. We agreed to work towards the establishment of an Indo-Pacific trilateral development cooperation that would facilitate development projects, especially in the framework of the International Solar Alliance. I should also mention that the ISA now has firmed up projects in three countries which shows really the impact that India and France make together - in Bhutan, In Papua New Guinea and in Senegal. The Indo-Pacific trilateral would also provide a platform for Indian innovations and start-ups to demonstrate their relevance to the requirements of other societies. Our exchange on the perspectives on Africa was also very useful, given India’s expanding footprint in that continent.
4. France is a key member of the European Union and we naturally discussed advancing the India-EU negotiations on trade, investment and geographical indicators. We welcomed the commencement of the first round of negotiations in this regard. I thanked Minister Colonna for France’s efforts during its Presidency of the EU Council to expedite these processes. On her part, she briefed me about various matters under discussion in the Union, including in the context of Ukraine.
5. One reflection of the expanding comfort between India and France is the interest in creating trilateral formats with other partners. I had referred earlier to our cooperation on development issues in the Indo-Pacific. We also look forward to the meeting of the India-France-Australia trilateral in New York later in the month with our colleague, Minister Penny Wong. Another trilateral – with the UAE – would also be upgraded to the Ministerial level given the positive feedback we had from the official one.
6. India and France have a long tradition, a strong tradition of working together in multilateral platforms and on global issues. Currently we serve together in the UN Security Council and our coordination there has been commendable. I would particularly appreciate the clear-cut position France has taken on the challenge of terrorism. I shared with Minister Colonna India’s views and expectations of our forthcoming G20 Presidency.
7. Foreign Ministers, of course, have the responsibility of integrating various streams of cooperation that they have bilaterally. In the case of India and France, this is truly a formidable task given that we work with each other in so many domains. We did an overall review and I think I can speak for my French counterpart in declaring that we are satisfied with the progress in a range of domains that we discussed – defence, nuclear, space etc. but we expect to step up the tempo.
8. A few specific issues in our discussions are worth mentioning today. One, we are launching a scheme for the Exchange of Young Professionals in the 18-35 age group as a follow-up to our Migration and Mobility Partnership. Two, we expect the Indo-French Campus on Health that will be taking shape to establish double degree courses to facilitate exchanges and collaboration. Three, I welcomed France to the Raisina Forum for the Future of Diplomacy that will promote networking among young diplomats. Four, I thanked her for making India the country of honour in the Sea Tech Week in Brest that will bring together blue economy stakeholders. And five, we agreed to follow-up on the successful VivaTech Summit 2022 in France where India was the country of the year. We are particularly keen on the launch now of UPI and RuPay facilities.
9. Overall, I think we had an exceptionally good and productive day. I thank Minister Colonna once again and I would invite her to make her remarks.