India's Modi visits French aviation hub Toulouse

TOULOUSE, France (AFP) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday paid a lightning visit to Toulouse, the hub of the French aerospace industry in the south-west of the country.

With stops at the production line of the Airbus A380 as well as the National Centre of Space Research (CNES), Modi confirmed India's interest in the European high-technology sector.

The visit came the day after Modi announced that New Delhi had ordered 36 Rafale fighter jets from France in a multi-billion-euro agreement that has been years in the making.

The prime minister, on his maiden visit to France since his election last year, did not speak to reporters but gave ample time to photographers during his three-hour swing through Toulouse.

Accompanied by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders and the boss of its civil aviation subsidiary Fabrice Bregier, Modi posed in front of the cutting-edge H225M helicopter, which can transport special forces or carry out rescue missions.

Fabius told reporters that India "offers very important prospects... The fact the prime minister is here and that relations are excellent is very positive." He added: "Economic diplomacy works: the Rafale order shows this." Modi's Airbus hosts met with around 15 Indian suppliers and several dozen Toulouse-based Indian employees of the group.

Airbus released a statement saying it "commits to 'Make in India'", echoing comments that Modi had made on his Facebook page before heading to France.

Modi is seeking to attract investors wary over India's reputation for burdensome bureaucracy along with corruption and a stringent tax regime.

"I look forward to visit France to seek greater French involvement in our Make in India Programme, including in the defence manufacturing sector," the prime minister had written.

The Airbus statement said the group already "operates two engineering centres ... and a research and technology centre which together employ over 400 highly qualified people" in India.

It added that its purchases from India totalled some US$400 million (S$547 million) each year, supporting some 5,000 jobs in the country.

Vowing to "go further" in India, it said Airbus was "willing to set up final assembly lines and establish supply chains and related infrastructure for military transport aircraft and helicopters in the country".

At CNES, Modi met its chief, Jean-Yves Le Gall, as well as Indians who are studying engineering in the region.

Modi will wrap up his visit to France on Sunday before continuing on to Germany.