France aims to steal Britain's Indian investment crown

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - France is pitching itself to Indian investors as their new gateway to the European Union’s single market, hoping to supplant Britain now that the British have decided to leave the EU, the French industry minister told Reuters on Thursday.

French Secretary of State for Industry Christophe Sirugue gestures as he addresses a gathering during a seminar on "Why Smart Investors Choose France", in New Delhi, India October 25, 2016. Picture taken October 25, 2016. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/Files

Speaking on the last day of a three-day tour of India, where he visited local plants belonging to Renault and Saint-Gobain, Christophe Sirugue said Brexit was an opportunity for France to become India’s partner of choice in Europe.

“The British have made a choice, they must live with the consequences,” he told Reuters in an interview.

He said he had talked in particular to Tata TATA.NS, one of India's biggest investors in Britain, where its Jaguar Land Rover luxury car unit has its main production base.

“They are very well established in England, and obviously they’re asking themselves questions as to how things are going to evolve with Brexit,” Sirugue said.

“The message I’m here to pass on is that if you’re wondering what to do with your business there, France is ready to welcome you,” he said.

India was the third-largest source of foreign direct investment into Britain in 2015, contributing to its position as Europe’s top foreign direct investment destination, according to official British figures. India ranked as only the 30th largest investor in France, according to 2013 Bank of France figures.

However, British Prime Minister Theresa May at times has signalled the terms on which Britain leaves the EU should allow it to end the free entry of EU nationals. That demand is widely seen as making it all but impossible for Britain to keep full access to the single market {nL8N1CQ6JZ}.

The French push comes just days before a visit by May to India scheduled for Nov. 6-8, where she will lead a delegation of small and medium-size businesses.

Sirugue said France could act as a springboard for investments in the EU’s single market, the largest in the world, and also as a way to access French-speaking African markets.

He touted as other selling points the country’s recent reforms to improve its competitiveness, which have cut labour costs to below Germany’s, and the success of one of its tax- credit schemes for research and development.

Among recent wins for France is India's purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from Dassault Aviation AVMD.PA last month. It beat out the Eurofighter Typhoon, which is built by a European consortium that includes Britain's BAE Systems .

But talks to sell six new-generation EPR nuclear reactors built by French state groups EDF EDF.PA and Areva AREVA.PA will inevitably be long, Sirugue said. The French ambassador to India, Alexandre Ziegler, said talks were "very advanced", were going well and a breakthrough could be expected for 2017.

Writing by Michel Rose in Paris; Editing by Andrew Callus, Larry King