New Delhi, Apr 13 (PTI) India and France on Tuesday explored ways to strengthen cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, including under a trilateral mechanism with Australia to address emerging challenges in the maritime and space domains.
In the talks between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French side also decided to be part of India's Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI).
The two sides also recognised the importance of fast tracking the discussions on an India-EU trade and investment agreement, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said.
The two foreign ministers held extensive talks covering all aspects of the bilateral strategic ties as well as regional and global challenges.
'They explored ways to strengthen cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, including the India-France-Australia trilateral mechanism, addressing emerging challenges in the maritime and space domains and working together in the area of climate action and biodiversity protection,' the MEA said.
'In this regard, India welcomes France's decision to take up the 'Maritime Resources' pillar of India's Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI),' it said in a statement.
At the East Asia summit in Bangkok in 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed setting up of the IPOI to conserve and sustainably use the maritime domain and to make meaningful efforts to create a safe and secure maritime domain.
Meanwhile, a scheduled meeting between Le Drian and Modi did not take place on Tuesday. There was no official reason cited for it. However, it is learnt that it was done so as part of precautionary measures in view of the pandemic.
About the meeting between the two foreign ministers, the MEA said the they held discussions on a number of regional and global issues of mutual interest and reiterated their shared commitment to a multipolar world and faith in multilateralism.
The French minister arrived here on Monday evening on a three-day visit to explore ways to further boost cooperation between the two countries including in the Indo-Pacific region.
After the talks, Jaishankar said India and France will advance their shared post-COVID agenda through 'close collaboration'.
'A comfortable, substantive and productive discussion with FM @JY_LeDrian. India and France will advance their shared post-COVID agenda through close collaboration,' he tweeted.
French ambassador Emmanuel Lenain described the meeting as 'excellent'.
'Excellent meeting b/w @JY_LeDrian @francediplo_EN & @DrSJaishankar @MEAIndia. The ministers discussed all aspects of the bilateral strategic partnership, regional & global challenges and cooperation at the #UNSC,' Lenain said in a tweet.
The MEA said that in the context of the changes in a COVID-impacted world, both ministers recognised the immense opportunities for greater collaboration in diverse sectors such as trade and investments, defence and security, health, education, research and innovation, energy and climate change.
Bilateral trade with France has witnessed a steady rise in the last decade reaching USD 10.75 billion in 2020.
'To tap the full potential of bilateral trade and economic relations, both sides recognised the importance of fast tracking the discussions on an India-EU trade and investment agreement,' it said.
On Monday, the MEA said the visit by the French foreign minister will pave the way for further strengthening of bilateral partnership across trade, defence, climate, migration and mobility, education and health sectors in the post-COVID-19 context.
The French embassy said Le Drian is undertaking the visit to strengthen strategic ties between France and India, boost cooperation in several fields, particularly the Indo-Pacific.
The defence and security ties between India and France are on an upswing in the last few years.
India had signed an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore.
Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of Rafales, has delivered 14 jets to the Indian Air Force so far. PTI MPB ZMN