Exclusive: French boost for defence and trade

SYED UMAR ARIFF


THE longstanding relations between Malaysia and France will strengthen in the areas of defence and trade following President François Hollande’s two-day state visit here starting tomorrow.

Hollande’s visit will be the second after Jacques Chirac arrived in Kuala Lumpur 14 years ago to signify the continuation of the enduring ties between the two nations since 1957.

“It is an important visit because it is the second ever by a French president to Malaysia.

“It highlights the friendship between our two countries. The president is honoured to carry out this state visit,” French Ambassador to Malaysia Christophe Penot said.

France was among the first European countries to establish diplomatic ties with Malay-sia in the early days of its independence.

Decades down the road, the relationship has witnessed countless advancements, mainly in defence and education.

Malaysian-French bilateral trade value last year was recorded at €3.7 billion (RM17.6 billion), with a trade surplus of €638 million.

Both countries have forged firm cooperation in manufacturing, finance, insurance, and wholesale and retail sectors, with Malaysia being France’s fifth largest Asean trade partner.

Hollande’s visit will be punctuated with high-profile events, including a restricted meeting on bilateral ties with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, a state banquet hosted by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and a conference with leading French entrepre-neurs.

It will also see Malay-sian actress Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh
conferred with France’s highest state award — the Commandeur in the National order of Légion d’Honneur.

The French entourage will consist of 170 people, including four cabinet members in charge of defence, culture, industry and development.

Penot said France aimed to diversify its interest in Malaysia as a key partner in Southeast Asia.

Malaysia will be the second Asean country, after Singapore, that Hollande will visit during his three-nation tour in the region.

“The emphasis will be on trade, investment and defence.

“For trade and investment, we expect to sign a number of bilateral agreements, which are mainly business-to-business between (Malaysian) and our (French) companies. France has increased its trade and economic footprint in Malaysia in the past 10 years. Malaysia is a popular market for us as it provides an excellent market environment for foreign companies.”

Out of the top 40 French companies listed under the main French index of NYSE Euronext stock exchange, 30 had been established in Malaysia in joint ventures with local partners. Notable ones are Airbus, Bouygues, L’Oréal, LVMH, Peugeot-Citroën, Schneider Electric and Technip.

On defence, Penot said Malay-sia and France enjoyed firm cooperation in industrial relations, as seen in the advancement of submarine technology and training, which saw the Royal Malay-sian Navy emerging as one of the most competent naval arms in underwater warfare.

The latest purchase of four Airbus A400M Atlas tactical airlifters by Malaysia showed the country’s proactive stance in military aeronautics.

Penot described Malaysia-France ties as a “genuine” partnership, as seen in the sharing of technological expertise, rather than based solely on mutual perks of trade.

He said France was also looking into the possibility of forming a tighter intelligence network with Malaysia.