President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived on Saturday on a four-day visit to India, seeking to drum up business for French firms, with a deal expected on building nuclear plants to feed the Asian giant's burgeoning energy needs.
On his first stop, Sarkozy will visit the state-run Indian Space Research Organization in the technology hub of Bangalore, where a joint project with France is developing a satellite to monitor climate change and ocean conditions.
The French leader will hold talks on Monday with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, after a private visit Sunday with First Lady Carla Bruni to the Taj Mahal, the famed white marble monument to love in the northern city of Agra.
His trip comes amid a rash of visits by world leaders to India. President Barak Obama visited last month and the leaders of Russia and China are due by year's end.
Sarkozy is accompanied by his defense, foreign and finance ministers and nearly 60 CEOs of French companies. Although no defense agreements are expected during the visit, he is expected to push for French firms to win contracts to supply military hardware. French companies are negotiating to upgrade 51 Mirage-2000 jet fighters of the Indian air force. India is also in the market to buy 126 fighter jets, a deal worth $11 billion, and nearly 200 helicopters worth another $4 billion.
According to defense experts, New Delhi is expected to spend $80 billion between 2012 and 2022 to upgrade its military. France is also hoping to benefit from India's decision to build nearly 20 nuclear power plants.
France is well-placed to cash in, as it has steadily supported India's nuclear program and resisted sanctions imposed by many developed nations when India tested a nuclear weapons in 1998. French nuclear power company, Areva SA, emerged as the front-runner to set up two of six power plants in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Last week, the site for the plants received environmental clearance _ a major hurdle for any infrastructure project in India.
An agreement between Areva and India's Nuclear Power Corporation is likely to be signed during Sarkozy's visit, said T.P. Seetharam, a top official in India's external affairs ministry. Sarkozy's office in Paris said talks with Singh will also focus on France's plans for reforming the Group of 20 leading economies. France takes over the rotating presidency of the G-20 this month and seeks support from India for its proposals to limit excessive currency volatility, control swings in commodity prices and reform global fiscal governance.
After Monday's talks with Singh in the capital, Sarkozy will address business leaders in Mumbai on boosting bilateral trade and investment and joint ventures.
Bilateral trade declined in 2009 due to global economic woes, but was on the upswing this year, said Vishnu Prakash, India's external affairs ministry spokesman. The two countries have set a trade target of 12 billion euros ($15.8 billion) for 2012, he said.