Nicole Bricq, Minister of Foreign Trade, visited Burma on 30 and 31 July, accompanied by some 15 French SMEs and mid-cap companies. For the first time, these companies were selected via an online registration form on the Ministry’s website, and over the two days they enjoyed individually tailored programmes of business meetings organized by Ubifrance.
French exports to Burma reached around €20 million in 2012. With the country having embarked on a democratic transition in 2011 and opening up more and more to foreign investors and the entrepreneurial culture, France would like to increase her bilateral trade and support Burma’s economic development (1). To this end, France has already carried out several actions:
At financial level, the Paris Club, chaired by France, has cancelled $6 billion of Burma’s debt – a sign of the confidence placed in the reforms undertaken by the regime. For her part, France has written off half of Burma’s debt: €557 million. On her visit, the Minister made this debt reduction official by signing the bilateral agreement – the first between the two countries for 20 years – with the Burmese Finance Minister.
At commercial level, France has supported the European Commission in its determination to put Burma back into the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which enables Burmese exports to Europe to be facilitated by establishing preferential customs duties. This system has been back in place since mid-June;
Regarding support for companies, following the reopening of the economic department in Yangon in September 2012 Nicole Bricq inaugurated the brand new Ubifrance office in Yangon on 31 July, a sign of the importance France attaches to her economic relations with Burma and the Minister’s determination for the agency’s network to be rapidly galvanized in the new growth areas.
Other initiatives were also announced by the Minister: raising donations by the FASEP (2), the first of which will be devoted to modernizing the water supply system in three districts of Yangon; reintroducing guarantees through Coface [export credit insurance agency]; and also, ultimately, extending the mandate of the French Development Agency (AFD).
During her visit, Nicole Bricq also visited Naypyitaw, where, among other things, she had a meeting with Mrs Aung San Suu Kyi. They discussed the prospects for development and Burma’s priority needs (transport infrastructure, water and electricity supply etc.) and both insisted on the necessary respect of the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility by foreign companies establishing themselves in the country .
Finally, the Minister supported the actions of the large French groups, chief among them Bouygues, Lafarge, Louis Dreyfus Armateurs, Orange and Total, which are involved in several major investment projects in the country.
For Nicole Bricq, “the democratic transition under way in Burma is accompanied by promising economic development. France, who is no doubt among the most active European countries, wants to support the Burmese on both levels. At economic level, we must clearly do better, to hear their needs and respond. I encourage both our large groups and our SMEs to be more active on the ground, and I’ll support them in this. Multiplying our exports tenfold in the next three years is within our grasp, provided everyone plays an active role.”./.
(1) According to a study published by the law firm McKinsey, some $320 billion of investment in infrastructure is necessary between now and 2030 for the country to catch up.
(2) Financial tool managed by the General Directorate of the Treasury.