The “hottest area” of French investment in India is nuclear energy and France is excited about the MoU signed between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and France’s nuclear company Areva, French Ambassador Jerome Bonnafont said in an interview to The Hindu on Wednesday.

In Chennai to launch “Bonjour India,” an Indo-French festival of exhibitions, concerts, literary meetings, etc. he said that immediately after the signing of the Indo-French Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement in Paris on September 30, 2008, Areva and the NPCIL began a dialogue that resulted in the signing of the MoU in February 2009.

Under the MoU, France would put up to six nuclear power plants at Jaitapur in Maharashtra. “Each will have a capacity of 1,600 MW, which means in Jaitapur you might have, within the next few years, 10,000 MW generated from our nuclear plants.” The actual contract for the first two plants should be signed in early 2010, he said.

On the liability issue, Mr. Bonnafont said, “We have asked for three implementation agreements in addition to the general agreement, which is being examined by our Parliament. The Senate approved it unanimously a couple of weeks ago and the National Assembly will do so in the next few days.”

The additional agreements pertain to protection of classified information, intellectual property rights and civil liabilities. India is preparing a law on civil liabilities to enter the international forum on civil liabilities and once that happens, a bilateral agreement will not be required with France.

“But we will need a liability mechanism, which is both important and crucial. I’m confident it will be done one way or another, simply because when you’re going to have so much nuclear power generated in India with different partners, you will need a systematic regime of liabilities in tune with international rules. So we are not worried, Mr. Bonnafont said.”

The Ambassador is upbeat over investment and trade between India and France. “We believe India is very important in the global economy, is bound to grow rapidly and has ambitious plans for infrastructure and overall development. It is going to be a much more important economic, industrial and financial player in the world.”

France is keen on growing French investment in India and Indian presence in France. Surprised to see “so much Indian investment in the U.K. but so little in France,” Mr. Bonnafont said he understands the “natural attraction of India towards English speaking markets.” But there is also a “cultural angle” to this investment story; “Indian business does not know at all how France works, and there is also the belief that once you are in London you are in Europe.” But those who went through cultural acclimatisation soon realised that “France is a very friendly country for foreign investors.”

Mr Bonnafont started his diplomatic career in 1986 as the Second Secretary at the French Embassy in Delhi. So when he returned as Ambassador in 2007 “it was like coming back to my second home.” Foreigners who understand the “alternative civilisation” offered by India find it a fascinating place. He loves Indian food — not “too spicy” though — and classical music, both Hindustani and Carnatic.

The big change he finds in India after 25 years is the “power of the private sector and the growth of the middle class. India is far more an optimistic country now than in 1986.” There are problems for sure, “but what is most impressive is that absolutely everybody — even the people in difficulty — is convinced that life tomorrow will be better than what it is today.”

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