French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in India yesterday, the latest in a line of global leaders beating a trade-focused path to the door of the world’s second-fastest growing economy.
Sarkozy, who will lobby on behalf of French companies chasing multibillion-dollar Indian contracts for fighter jets and nuclear technology, is being accompanied on the four-day trip by his pop star wife, Carla Bruni.
His visit comes a month after US President Barack Obama traveled to India and will be followed in swift succession by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Sarkozy is leading a high--powered delegation of seven ministers and about 60 chief executives, including the heads of aircraft makers Dassault Aviation and EADS, and the state-controlled nuclear group Areva.
Dassault is hoping to pick up a US1.2 billion contract to revamp 56 Mirage-2000 aircraft that France sold India nearly two decades ago.
In an interview with the Hindu newspaper, Sarkozy said he embraced his role as a global lobbyist for French firms.
“Do I want French companies to win contracts and get ahead of their competitors on the Indian market? Of course, I do. And do I think it is my role as head of the French state to help them? ... The answer is once again ‘yes,’” he said.
At the same time, he rejected the label of “super-salesman,” saying his ambitions for Franco-Indian ties went “far beyond” the economic sphere.
“India is, first and foremost, a major political partner, an indispensable power without which we cannot rise to the major challenges the world faces,” he said.
His visit to India is his first to a G20 state since France took the presidency of the group of developed and major developing economic powers. During talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he is expected to push his plans for overhauling the global monetary system and combating commodity price volatility.
The two leaders are also expected to focus their discussions on Afghanistan and counterterrorism.
India’s ambitious military spending plans, spread across all three wings of its armed forces, are a source of intense competition among foreign arms manufacturers.
According to global consultancy firm KPMG, India is about to embark on “one of the largest procurement cycles in the world,” with an expected US$112 billion in defense acquisitions by 2016.
Dassault and EADS are both in the running, together with US and Swedish rivals, for an US$11 billion tender by the Indian Air Force to purchase 126 warplanes.
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