With India Inc emerging as a serious investor around the globe, various governments and cities, from London to Paris, are now courting Indian companies, seeking their investments.
A few days ago, London's charismatic mayor Ken Livingstone was in India heading a delegation that included a strong business component and this week it is the turn of Paris. A high-powered delegation from the Greater Paris Investment Agency is headed to India in the middle of this week, hoping to convince Indian companies, which have been rather lukewarm towards France, to have a rethink about Paris.
"We will highlight the advantages of Paris as a place to set up your European headquarters," says Thierry Jacquillat, chairman of the Greater Paris Investment Agency (GPIA), a non-profit organisation formed by leading French corporates with the aim of promoting Paris as a global investment destination of choice.
"Not many people are aware that Paris is not only a city of culture and tourism but that it also accounts, along with its suburbs, for about 30 percent of the French GDP, which makes it a lot bigger economy than several mid-sized countries of Europe like Belgium or Portugal.
"Also, we like to inform potential investors that within a 500-km radius from the Greater Paris area live over 300 million well-heeled consumers," Jacquillat told the Paris-based Media India magazine before heading for his Asia trip which will take him first to Tokyo and then to India.
"We are not projecting Paris as a manufacturing hub, but if you want to set up your European headquarters or want to set up a service-industry then Paris is better than any other city in the neighbourhood," says Jacquillat.
Pitching Paris directly in competition with London, the favoured Indian destination, Jacquillat says that Paris is extremely cost effective for real estate or capital investment as well as skilled labour costs.
"Real estate in Paris is cheaper by at least 50 percent while skilled labour with similar qualifications is 30 percent less expensive in Paris than in London," he says.
Jacquillat and his team, which includes heavyweights like CEOs of LVMH, Altran, KPMG, BNP etc, will first head to Bangalore to meet some of the leading lights of Indian IT companies who have been investing rather heavily in the neighbouring countries of Belgium, Britain, the Netherlands and Germany but seem to have overlooked France.
After Bangalore, the delegation will head to New Delhi, where it will attend the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit and meet a number of Indian investors. Alongside, on December 3, it will host a luncheon attended by, among others, French Ambassador Jerome Bonnafont where the GPIA delegation hopes to meet select Indian businessmen and decision makers.
Jacquillat, who was also a senior board member of Pernod Ricard, the world's number two wine and Spirits Company, says he is familiar with India as he has been a regular visitor to the country for the last 15 years. In his 40 years at Pernod, Jacquillat is credited with having played an instrumental role in taking this company where it is today.
He says that GPIA began its road shows in India nearly three years ago and before it hit China.
"This is because the Indian economy is more mature than the Chinese in as much as overseas investments go, even though Chinese companies are also now beginning to invest overseas seriously," Jacquillat said.
He says that the recent strikes in France as well as the general negative image of France being unfriendly to overseas investments will not prove to be a hurdle in their path.
"We can and will point out that after China and the US, France is the third largest recipient of foreign direct investment in the world. So surely something is working right here for all these investors and we need to highlight these to the Indian investors," he says.
Moreover, to make France more appealing to overseas investors, the GPIA in particular and French industry leaders in general have been pressing the French government to ease social security norms as well as make it easier and more attractive to set up and run businesses in France.
Besides software, the sectors of interest to Indian investors could be food processing, infrastructure and transportation.
Jacquillat says he found India to be an increasingly open market and that its strength and weaknesses were rather different from the other big market of Asia.
"Your strength is the rather highly federated structure and your democracy. Moreover, Indians have a natural expertise in doing business. And unlike the Chinese, the Indians don't have a short-term vision. This, however, is both an advantage and a handicap."