ASTANA (Reuters) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy clinched oil, gas, and nuclear deals worth more than $6 billion with Kazakhstan during a visit, establishing France as a key investor in the resource-rich state.
The West sees Kazakhstan, the largest oil producer in the former Soviet Union after Russia, as an increasingly important energy supplier as it ramps up production by tapping new oil and natural-gas fields on its Caspian Sea shelf.
France's Total and GDF Suez on October 6 got their share of future Caspian output by joining the project to develop the Khvalynskoye gas field, jointly owned by Russia's LUKoil and Kazakh state firm KazMunaiGaz.
Khvalynskoye is relatively small, with estimated gas reserves of 332 billion cubic meters (bcm), while fields such as Russia's Shtokman and Turkmenistan's South Iolotan contain a few trillion cubic meters each.
But it is conveniently placed to feed into the Russian pipeline network and should eventually produce over 8 bcm of gas a year as well as some oil condensate.
Total already plays a central role in developing Kazakhstan's flagship oil project Kashagan, the world's biggest oil discovery in the last 30 years, also on the Caspian shelf.
On October 6, a consortium led by another French firm, Entrepose Contracting unit Spie-Capag, signed a memorandum with Kazakhstan under which it could get a contract to build a pipeline for the export of Kashagan crude.
Entrepose Contracting said the Yeskene-Kuryk pipeline, which will connect Kashagan to the Caspian Aqtau port, could fetch 1.2 billion euros ($1.8 billion) in contracts for French companies.
In another energy deal, France's Areva and Kazakh state nuclear company Kazatomprom agreed to set up a joint venture to market nuclear fuel in Asia and look at the prospects of producing it in Kazakhstan.
The former Soviet republic sits on a fifth of global uranium reserves and is on track to become the world's top producer of the radioactive metal this year. But it lacks the technology to process uranium into ready-for-use reactor fuel.
Officials said the two sides signed a total of 24 deals worth over $6 billion on October 6, a high figure even for Kazakhstan, which has secured more than $70 billion in foreign investment since gaining independence in 1991.
Sarkozy and his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbaev oversaw the signing ceremonies and referred to each other as "dear friends" at a business forum held after the talks.
Sarkozy praised Kazakhstan's role in securing stability in the volatile region and said Astana could help resolve the Afghan crisis.
When asked about criticism Kazakhstan has faced over its human rights record ahead of chairing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Sarkozy said he was convinced Astana was moving toward OSCE standards.
"We have made our political choice, my dear friend, and I hope you will see that when France makes a political choice it sticks to it to the end," he told Nazarbaev at the forum.