Interview: Nicole Bricq
How can France remain a competitive trade partner for African countries?
NICOLE BRICQ: Africa is not a uniform block where demand is the same for all countries. Every country is different, and they each have their own expectations. Therefore trading partners should take an individual approach and adapt accordingly. Growth in South-South trade is a hard fact. About half of Sub-Saharan Africa’s exports are destined for emerging and developing countries, against less than a quarter in 1990. As a result of this diversification in trading partners, competition has increased significantly. Although France’s share of trade has seen a steady decline in recent years, from 10.1 % in 2000 to 4.7 % in 2011, we have still benefitted from Africa’s growth, with exports to Sub-Saharan Africa jumping almost three-fold over 20 years, from $6.3bn in 1990 to $17.5bn in 2011. While the arrival of new exporters has lead to a reduction of our market share, we remain the leading trading partner in regions like the Maghreb, with market shares exceeding 10% in each country.
To what extent can trade between Europe and Africa lead to greater technology transfer?
BRICQ: The transfer of technology is key to economic growth and core to trade between both continents. It is also central to generating long-term partnerships between countries whose practices and technologies converge. In Algiers, for example, cooperation between Suez Environnement and Société des Eaux et Assainissement d’Alger is a successful case of technology transfer. While these transfers are legitimate partnerships, technology and skill transfers with African countries also confer a competitive advantage to French companies, as many new partners in Africa do not have French know-how or business roots.
How can compliance to international standards by local African suppliers be ensured?
BRICQ: Business relations between French companies and their foreign suppliers are of primary concern. Our country is a signatory to the OECD Guiding Principles, meaning that French companies have to give a particular focus to their subsidiaries and suppliers in terms of complying with social and environmental standards.
In a different geographical context, the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh was an alarming example of the lack of vigilance and interest given to local suppliers by foreign firms. In the wake of that accident, measures have been taken to reinforce awareness around respecting social and environmental standards. In Africa and beyond, the progress of French companies is centred around these issues.
What are the main challenges to greater intra-regional trade in francophone Africa?
BRICQ: While technical barriers and tariff and non-tariff barriers need to be overcome, the main problem currently is the logistical costs impacting the entire marketing chain. The cost of cross-border trade in Africa is about twice that of OECD countries. Notwithstanding, African countries are moving towards greater regional economic integration, which is a sign of future trade growth at the regional and international level. Further, the efforts made by the Economic Community of West African States should also be recognised.
In what way can economic ties between France and Côte d’Ivoire be strengthened?
BRICQ: While Côte d’Ivoire has a number of attractive assets, for instance the country’s strategic geographic location, France’s ambitions are also rooted in our long-standing and fruitful relationship.
With total direct investment of around €800m, France is the leading foreign investor in Côte d’Ivoire, especially in sectors such as agribusiness. Despite the political challenges faced by the country, most industrial companies developed by French operators are still present. It is now time for both countries to further capitalise on their relationship, particularly at a time when Côte d’Ivoire is about to jump-start industrialisation.
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