Sarkozy eyes defence, nuclear contracts in India trip

2nd December 2010, Comments 0 comments

President Nicolas Sarkozy heads to India Saturday to try to sell French fighter jets and nuclear technology to the Asian giant while his pop star wife Carla Bruni pursues her AIDS charity work.

Sarkozy is taking seven ministers and a bevy of French industrialists along on the four-day trip, his first visit to a G20 state since France took the presidency of the group of developed and major developing economic powers.

It shows France's "recognition" of India's position as "the world's second growth engine" after China, an Elysee aide said. "In this very competitive environment, we have a special place in India," he added.

Sarkozy last visited India in 2008, just before he married Bruni, the supermodel turned pop singer who is now a goodwill ambassador for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The couple plan to squeeze in a private visit to the Taj Mahal, one of the world's architectural wonders.

The president's visit to India comes between that of US President Barack Obama last month and ahead of trips there by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Sarkozy will be accompanied by Defence Minister Alain Juppe, Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and Economy Minister Christine Lagarde and three other ministers.

Indian officials said no contracts would be signed during the visit but Sarkozy is nevertheless taking along bosses from some of France's industrial giants.

Executives from the state-controlled nuclear group Areva, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) and Dassault Aviation, which makes the Rafale fighter jet, will travel with the president.

Dassault is hoping to pick up a 1.2-billion dollar contract to revamp 56 Mirage-2000 aircraft that France sold India nearly two decades ago.

The firm is also hoping to sell its Rafale warplanes to arms-hungry India, which global consultancy firm KPMG said is about to embark on "one of the largest procurement cycles in the world."

By 2016 it is expected to spend 112 billion dollars on defence acquisitions, according to KPMG.

France considers the Rafale a state of the art warplane but has struggled to find any foreign buyers to support the project -- a cause not helped by reported comments from the King of Bahrain mocking it as "yesterday's technology" in the WikiLeaks cables.

France is also hoping to get a slice of India's 150-billion-dollar civilian nuclear market.

Talks are ongoing between Areva and the Indian state-run Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC) to try to reach a deal for the French firm to build two reactors in the west of the country, officials said.

Those plans were boosted on Sunday when India gave environmental clearance for a nuclear power plant to be built in collaboration with Areva in Maharashtra state.

Sarkozy's trip kicks off Saturday with a visit to Indian Space Research Organisation in the southern city of Bangalore, India's high-tech capital.

Starting the trip there is intended to "pay homage to the India of the 21st century," a Sarkozy aide said.

The French leader will on Monday meet with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pradibha Patil New Delhi.

The French first lady plans to visit a New Delhi foundation for children suffering from AIDS and will also tour a hospital in the capital.

Bruni, who lost her brother Virginio to AIDS in 2006, in 2008 became an ambassador for the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS.

© 2010 AFP

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