To commemorate French National Day, Post Plus sat down with the French Ambassador to Cambodia, Jean-Claude Poimboeuf. He spoke about the recent developments between the two countries, the level of financial assistance and France’s commitment to help strengthen the Kingdom’s economy.
In the one year that you have been the French Ambassador to Cambodia, how has the relationship between the two countries developed?
There are two examples that could best illustrate our relationship. The first one is more symbolic, but important. I would like to say how touched we were by all the testimonies of solidarity that we received from the Cambodian people and the Cambodian leaders after the terrorist attacks in Paris in January. We had a lot of people come to the embassy to give their condolences, including the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. It was a sign of the deep relationship that exists between Cambodia and France.
The second illustration is the developments that have happened over the past few months. Our Minister of State for Development and Francophonie, AnnickGirardin, was here in May and she signed two sets of documents. The first one was a document about the strategic partnership between France and Cambodia. And the second was a series of financial conventions with the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
What specific projects are currently underway by Agence Française de Développement (AFD)?
AFD has become a very big player in Cambodia with an amount close to 100 million Euros a year of financial commitments. These commitments are mostly devoted to financing projects that develop the productive sectors within the Cambodian economy.
To give you one example, AFD will provide 35 million Euros to build rural roads around the Tonle Sap to help farmers ship their rice into the market.
We also have two very interesting new ventures with the AFD. One is to finance a vocational training center for the garment industry. And what is important about this is that the Cambodian government has agreed to borrow money to finance education and vocational training. This was not the case in the past because these programs were primarily financed by grants, not by loans.
AFD is also financing a vocational training school in the hospitality industry. It is not enough to train cooks and waiters. The industry also needs well trained managers.
Can you talk about the scholarship opportunities France has provided for Cambodian students?
For the past twenty years, we have had close to 2000 Cambodian students who have benefited from French scholarships. This year we will have nearly 60 Cambodians who will benefit from scholarships. Although we have been training mostly lawyers, economists and medical doctors, I am happy to note that we have more and more engineers going to France to study.
Are there any concerns you have in terms of current legislation that could impact levels of assistance?
As far as LANGO is concerned, the European embassies participated in the seminar that was hosted on July 8th by the National Assembly. On that occasion, the EU representative said that we will look very closely at the conditions that will be created for NGOs, of which a lot of our assistance goes through. As you know, the EU is the largest contributor in terms of grants to Cambodia.
What is the current level of trade and commerce between Cambodia and France?
The economic relationship is growing. We have a bilateral trade that has grown by 30 per cent since last year, and the total figure is 465 million Euros. Most of it is Cambodian exports to France. And while the bulk of our imports from Cambodia are garments, the importation of Cambodian rice is becoming popular. France is the biggest market in Europe for Cambodian rice.
On the export side we also have growth, but it is mostly limited to pharmaceuticals. It should be noted that of the 2000 Cambodians who have been educated in France, 600 of them are in the medical field. So we see the potential for growth in supplying the country’s hospitals with medical equipment and products.
What are some of the programs set up to foster an appreciation for art and to assist Cambodian artists?
Whenever we have French artists, whether a painter or photographer, show their work in Cambodia, they also hold master class to train young promising artists. Every year, we have Photo Phnom Penh. This year, we also had a street art festival. These events allow for French, international and Cambodian artists to exchange and create things. And this is exactly what we want to do.
How large is the French population in Cambodia?
We have around 7000 French living in Cambodia. It is a significant number and it is growing about 10 per cent a year. Half of the French citizens living here are dual nationals. They are coming to Cambodia to invest, work and to create new companies.
What is your message for Cambodia for this year?
My main message for this year, seeing the developments of the past few months, is that the culture of dialogue between the two political parties will continue and deepen in all levels of society and will bring results that are beneficial to the Cambodian people, for the maturing of the Kingdom’s democratic institutions and for creating confidence in the economic development. As a long-standing friend and partner, France remains committed to assisting Cambodia in this process.