Chandigarh: French President Francois Hollande on Sunday began the economic leg of his three-day visit to India, offering his country's assistance in the development of at least three smart cities -- Chandigarh, Puducherry and Nagpur.
The announcement came during two back-to-back meetings which the visiting head of state, along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, held here with the corporate leaderships of the two countries. The first meeting was with the Indo-French CEOs Forum.
Following the first economic engagement, the two leaders then attended the larger India-France Business Summit hosted by India's Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the Confederation of Indian Industry.
The businesses of the two sides also signed 16 pacts mainly in urban development and clean energy, but also covering one agreement on aerospace between the French giant Airbus and India's Mahindras.
Addressing the meeting with the Indo-French CEO's Forum, Prime Minister Modi said India today presented immense opportunities to the global investing community both as a market and a hub for manufacturing.
"India is the fastest growing economy in the world. We have the labour and the market for your products," Modi said. "India is also a source of hope and confidence for the entire world community," he said adding that the investment climate had also improved considerably.
Modi, who recalled having met the French president five times last year, also said that France's greatest strength has been innovation, which can fit well with India's talent. "This kind of partnership can achieve a lot."
Hollande, on his part, said his visit here had two main goals -- consolidating the strategic partnership with India in a host of areas, including security, and implementing the climate change goals that were set forth in the global conference in Paris last year.
"Without the intervention of Prime Minister Modi on climate justice, there would have been no agreement," the French president said referring to what is formally called a meeting of the Conference of Parties under UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
"France will contribute in the development of Indian smart cities of Chandigarh, Nagpur and Puducherry," the French president said. He had already declared a $2.25-billion line of credit for the "Smart Cities" project of Prime Minister Modi.
Chandigarh already has a French connection, having been planned by noted French architect Le Corbusier. Puducherry has been a former French enclave. And in Nagpur, the French are also interested in the city's metro and the upcoming strategic industry in its vicinity.
(Also Read: Modi welcomes Hollande at Chandigarh's Rock Garden)
Big French firms like Alstom, Dassault, Egis, Lumiplan, RATP Transdev and Schneider are interested in the Smart Cities Mission. High-profile visits have already been made last year to Puducherry (September 10), Chandigarh (October 12) and Nagpur (December 16-17).
Some 30 business leaders from the two sides attended the half-hour meeting of the Indo-French CEO's Forum, which was formed in 2009 to identify new avenues to push bilateral economic ties between the two countries.
The agenda for discussions included defence, green economy, smart cities, infrastructure, transportation, water and financial sector. Hollande is in India as this year's chief guest for its Republic Day on January 26.
Besides talks with the Indian leadership, his engagement includes the inauguration of the International Solar Alliance secretariat at National Institute of Solar Energy at Gwal Pahari, on the Gurgaon-Faridabad Road, along with Modi.
The alliance of 122 nations was announced by Modi and Hollande in Paris on November 30.
According to the available data, French investments in India total around $19 billion, giving jobs to 280,000 jobs, while the stock of Indian investments in France is some $700 million with 7,000 jobs. The bilateral trade is around $8 billion, skewed in India's favour.