New French ambassador wants closer economic cooperation
“Economy, economy and economy,” he said in an interview with Korea JoongAng Daily at the embassy on April 18. “For all countries in the world, also France, we are in a very difficult economic situation. It is important that everyone in France is mobilized to try for a better economic situation.”
His goal is in accordance with those of Fleur Pellerin, minister-delegate for small- and medium-sized enterprises, innovation and digital economy, who visited South Korea last month and emphasized the importance of economic relations between the two countries.
“We recently signed a free trade agreement with Korea, which was dealt with by the EU,” he said. “Everybody says we need to emphasize our food products [but] we would be happy to see more French cars in Korea.”
The 56-year-old ambassador is a graduate of the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, one of the France’s graduate schools for public administration. He entered the diplomatic arena as a secretary for the French Embassy in Lebanon in 1981 and took a variety of posts since then in the French foreign ministry covering Brazil, Asia, Oceania and the Far East.
This is not the first time that the ambassador has worked in Korea. From 1988 to 1992, he was a counselor for cultural affairs at the French Embassy in Seoul, and he said he has good memories of that job.
“I was very happy at that period,” he said. “Korea is currently moving very quickly, so I think it would be extremely interesting to be able to compare Korea in 2013 and Korea in 1992.”
Q. How has Seoul been since you arrived?
A. I arrived here in December, so I have tried to establish contacts with the Korean administration. It was very lucky to have a meeting with Madam Park [President Park Geun-hye] before her inauguration. Now I would like to contact people in your administration - ministers and advisers of the Blue House.
I’ve also contacted many people about French activities. I visited several universities, including Seoul National University, and met with some business people.
What did you discuss with President Park?
I can say it was very nice meeting. Madam Park was extremely nice. We discussed our common interests and how to boost bilateral relations, and that will include almost all fields, including economy, university, and trade and exchange, and so on.
Obviously, we talked a little about North Korea. She knows very well that France is strongly supporting the South Korean government.
So it was very good meeting. Madam Park paid very close attention to France and Europe, and I think that’s very important. Developing a relationship with Europe is also, I think, one of her priorities.
I found you worked here in 1988-92. Can you talk about the changes you’ve been in Korea?
First of all, I was very happy at that period. I had good memories. Korea is currently moving very quickly, so I think it would be extremely interesting to be able to compare Korea in 2013 with Korea in 1992.
Obviously, Korea has changed a lot. I think it is even more important that the mentality of people and daily lives of people have changed. For example, 20 years ago, it was not that common that boys and girls go out for dates walking around. But it is very common now.
The situation of women has changed a lot. It is still a complicated issue in Korea, but I think it changed significantly. The inauguration of Madam Park was difficult to imagine 20 years ago.
What do Korea and France have in common?
Both countries pay a lot of attention to culture. I was impressed by the inauguration ceremony. Madam Park mentioned culture and some social aspects of protecting culture at her inauguration ceremony, which I understand, was quite new to Korean politics. This is something we share with Korea.
We both have economic problems, but quite different ones. France is too protective, which is good, but it costs a lot. But on your side, it is reversed. It would be good for people if there was a little more social protection.
What are your top priorities for your term?
Economy, economy and economy. For all countries, also France, we are in very difficult economic situations. It is important that everyone in France is mobilized to try for a better economic situation.
It has been more than one year and a half now since the Korea-EU free trade pact was signed in July 2011. We want this FTA to be a good occasion to develop trade and investment in both ways. So we are teaching [French] companies about what this agreement is and what benefits they can get from this agreement.
Everybody says we need to emphasize our food products. Of course, we have good wine, but luxury products and cosmetics are also important. We would also be happy to see more French cars in Korea. Another important part would be aeronautics. Developing university and research sectors will also link to the economy.
Do you have any plans regarding economic relations this year?
When Madam Fleur came here, she was accompanied by businessmen from almost 30 companies in the IT and civil nuclear fields [to meet with South Korean businessmen]. We also arranged some seminars in Paris. There will be a seminar in June in Busan for a bilateral partnership organized by the embassy.
Do you have any plans for cultural events?
I have just launched a direct French language program with Yang Chung High School. Recently, there were 15 young French students who spent one week with students in the high school, and that was a very good experience for them.
They also interacted with Korean students, which is very good. They spent the week in local families’ houses with a Korean boy or girl of the same age.
This student exchange program is very important because when young men and women spend six weeks in your country, people will never forget. So this is really creating links between the two countries for the long term.
Korean culture is very popular in France, I think, because of two reasons - K-pop, including Psy, and Samsung. One direct consequence of this popularity is an increase in the number of French students who want to learn the Korean language.
And also, we will mark the 130th anniversary of diplomatic relations between France and Korea in 2015 and 2016.
By Kim Hee-jin [firstname.lastname@example.org]