Interview: Franck Riester

How would you assess the level of economic cooperation between France and Côte d’Ivoire?

FRANCK RIESTER: Côte d’Ivoire is a major economic partner for France, and our economic cooperation is long-standing and dynamic. This is the reason why our trade has grown since 2014 and has been able to withstand the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, in 2020 Côte d’Ivoire was our second-largest trading partner and second-largest supplier among the sub-Saharan African countries. French exports to the country reached €1.1bn in 2020, while imports from Côte d’Ivoire reached €900m.

Many French companies have chosen to establish operations in Côte d’Ivoire to meet the needs of the Ivorian market and manage their activities on a regional scale. Nearly 700 French companies, including some 250 subsidiaries of French groups, have established strong relationships in the country and are determined to further deepen these ties.

What role can France play in accelerating the growth of the Ivorian economy, and what sectors offer further opportunities for investment?

RIESTER: Since 2017 we have been working to strengthen our relationship with African markets, with the objective of developing long-term partnerships. In regard to Côte d’Ivoire, we also offer financial and technical support through the expertise of our companies and French public operators.

Investment opportunities are plentiful and constantly diversifying, and span areas such as infrastructure, energy, technology, industry, agriculture, trade and services. In this regard, French companies continue to provide solutions and support for Côte d’Ivoire’s development. For example, French chocolatier CÉMOI created the first chocolate production unit in Côte d’Ivoire, making it possible to develop the country’s local manufacturing segment and enhance export capacities of chocolate – not just raw cocoa.

Our commitment to Côte d’Ivoire also extends to the financial sector, which is essential for creating the conditions for robust and sustainable growth. The Debt Reduction and Development Contract is a mechanism for converting debt into development projects that demonstrate economic cooperation between two countries. Since 2012, €1.7bn has been mobilised through the first two components of this mechanism, while the third component of €1.1bn was signed on October 27, 2021. This financial support will be allocated to Côte d’Ivoire’s National Development Plan 2021-25 and will target the following areas: social aspects, including education, employment and health; urban development; agriculture; and the governance of public institutions, particularly financial institutions.

In what ways are French companies working to facilitate knowledge transfer and technological development in Côte d’Ivoire?

RIESTER: Emphasis should be placed on the development of technical training through apprenticeships. Indeed, we have observed that technical skills are not sufficiently represented in the job market. To this end, France would like to accelerate the trend set in motion by the majority of French companies that are hiring locally in Côte d’Ivoire and contributing to the development of skills through ambitious policies of social and environmental responsibility.

In the digital field, several French IT companies are becoming involved in training programmes and equipping the labour force with qualifications. For example, a degree programme in data science – the first of its kind in Côte d’Ivoire – was launched in 2017 in partnership with the French telecoms group Orange. More recently, in the field of construction and civil engineering, the Ivorian Ministry of National Education and Technical Training signed an agreement with Club Abidjan Ville Durable in November 2021 to improve the training and employability of youth in urban planning.