NEW DELHI (AFP) -India signed a string of trade and defence deals with French President Jacques Chirac as well as a nuclear declaration despite continuing fallout over an Indian industrialist’s hostile bid to buy a top European steelmaker.
While Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used a press conference after talks with Chirac in New Delhi to hail the nuclear and defence pacts, the French leader launched a broadside against Mittal Steel for its bid to take over Arcelor.
The 18.6 billion euro offer was “hostile, what is called an unfriendly bid, purely financial, that is to say without any industrial plan being known or revealed and contrary to custom, without any prior consultation,” Chirac said on Monday.
“It’s his right” to make the surprise bid, Chirac said referring to industrialist Lakshmi Mittal, an Indian citizen who heads Netherlands-based Mittal Steel.
“In fact it’s also the right of the Europeans to be concerned about employment problems, technology problems,” the French leader said.
The comments came after Mittal told an Indian television station on Sunday he was “very sad” about “racist” remarks made about his bid to create a giant firm controlling some 10 percent of the global steel market.
Mittal notwithstanding, Chirac and Singh painted a picture of close and friendly political and economic ties.
The French leader said Paris was in a position to support New Delhi’s growth “without a stranglehold of economic constraints,” and to allow India to have the energy it needs “without producing polluting greenhouse gases”.
The nuclear declaration said the two nations would pursue nuclear energy cooperation “exclusively for peaceful purposes”.
It confirmed the two countries were in talks to strike “a bilateral cooperation agreement on the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, subject to their respective international commitments and obligations”.
Singh said all facilities procured by India through international cooperation on civilian nuclear energy will “of course be subjected to (International Atomic Energy Agency — IAEA) safeguards”.
“We appreciate France’s support for the ongoing efforts to enable full civilian nuclear civilian cooperation between India and the international community,” Singh said.
Chirac had told India Today magazine India must first win the support of the 44-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for civilian nuclear technology transfer before cooperation can be effected.
Under NSG rules, countries importing nuclear technology must provide assurances proposed deals will not lead to the creation of nuclear weapons.
The defence agreement covers matters such as procurement, research and development of defence materials, joint exercises, professional exchanges and training, a joint statement said.
The two nations also agreed to seek to double bilateral trade from the 2.99 billion dollars recorded in 2004-05 within the next five years.
Among the agreements inked Monday was one by state-run domestic carrier Indian, formerly known as Indian Airlines, to purchase of 43 Airbus aircraft.
“It is a big order with value of over 2.5 billion dollars. It is a great achievement,” said Noel Forgeard, the head of European defence group EADS.
Chirac ahead of his visit had removed a major obstacle when he ordered home the asbestos-laden warship Clemenceau, which had been slated for dismantling in an Indian shipbreaking yard.
India’s Supreme Court had demanded to know exactly what was aboard the decommissioned aircraft carrier, which activists said posed a threat to human health and the environment.