French prime minister to visit Philippines

MANILA -- French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault will make his first historic three-day visit to the Philippines to meet with President Benigno Aquino III and discuss ways to enhance the two countries' political, economic and cultural relations, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Tuesday.

In a statement, the DFA said that Ayrault will undertake the first ever visit of a French prime minister to the country since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1947.

The French Prime Minister will spend two day in the Philippines—from October 19 to 21.

He will be accompanied by a 130-member delegation composed of ministers, parliamentarians and businessmen, the department said.

"Prime Minister Ayrault's visit does not only represent a milestone event in Philippine-French relations. More importantly, it sends a strong signal that France has taken serious notice of the positive developments in the country, and is ready to earnestly engage the Philippines as a vibrant and dynamic partner," the department said.

The visit will be founded on the theme, "Enhancing Philippine-French Relations Through Political, Economic and Cultural Cooperation."

"Through the theme . . . we are confident that the visit of Prime Minister Ayrault will infuse renewed bilateral ties and propel our partnership to greater heights," the department said.

The French prime minister will meet with Aquino in Malacañang. The President is expected to reciprocate the honor bestowed on his mother, late President Corazon Aquino, when she visited France in 1989.

Both leaders are expected to exchange views on moving bilateral relations forward, as well as on regional and multilateral issues.

"Economic relations between the two countries are strong and steadily growing," the DFA said.

According to the department, bilateral trade between the two countries amounted to $1.143 billion in 2011 as French investments in the Philippines reflected a "significant increase" last year with total approved investments of P1.145 billion, up 90 percent compared to 2010.

The department said that French companies such as LaFarge, Total, AXA and Alcatel "have strong presence in the country and have committed to increase their investments in the coming years."

Leading French companies like RATP Dev and Thales have also expressed their interest to participate in the bidding for flagship projects under the country's Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program.

A Philippine-French Business Forum will also be held on October 20 "to further enhance economic cooperation between the two countries."

"The forum will serve as a venue for the Prime Minister Ayrault’s accompanying delegation of key French businessmen to have a first-hand look at the strength of the Philippine economy, and the bright opportunities for doing business in the Philippines," the DFA said.

It added that several business contracts are expected to be signed during the forum wherein French global players in various sectors such as energy, aviation and aeronautics, transportation, infrastructures, electronics, healthcare and environment will be in attendance.

Aside from economic cooperation, Ayrault's visit will also heighten the cultural exchanges between the two countries since the signing of an agreement on holding the grand exhibition called the “Philippines—Art of Exchange at the Musée du Quai Branly, the premier museum in France for indigenous art and culture.

The exhibition will be conducted from April 9 to July 21 next year.

"The exhibition will put the Philippines in the cultural map of France and is expected to attract thousands of French, European, and international visitors, as well as generate wide media exposure. Side events will be organized during the exhibition to include workshops on Philippine cuisine, Philippine dances, Philippine musical instruments, and others,” the department said.

Ayrault will end his visit of the country with a trip to Cebu (south of Manila) where he is expected to witness a presentation on the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project that will be financed by the Agence Francaise du Developpement (AFD), the French government’s development cooperation arm.

AFD has been supportive of Aquino administration's development priorities particularly in the areas of "climate change, green infrastructures, sustainable urban development and services including transport, water supply and sanitation, agro-forestry and biodiversity protection, and capacity building for local government units."

Both countries also enjoy a strong people-to-people exchange as there are 50,000 Filipinos in France and about 4,000 French nationals living in the Philippines.

Most Filipinos in France are engaged in the services sector and skilled professionals. In 2011, Filipinos in France remitted a total of $51.3 million. (CVB/Sunnex)

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