Ethiopian PM kicks off historic French visit

15th April 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 14 (AFP) - Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on Thursday kicked off his first-ever official visit to France, which is aimed at boosting languishing economic ties and trade, by meeting with French business leaders.

PARIS, April 14 (AFP) - Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on Thursday kicked off his first-ever official visit to France, which is aimed at boosting languishing economic ties and trade, by meeting with French business leaders.

Meles met with some representatives of about 40 French companies, including aircraft maker Airbus, hotel and tourism group Accor, and telecommunications giants Bouygues and Alcatel.

The Ethiopian prime minister presented "his country's development policy, his priorities and business opportunities on offer to French companies," according to sources at France's employers' association (MEDEF).

Business leaders queried him about several sectors in Ethiopia with high potential such as agrobusiness, textiles, leather, tourism and infrastructure.

Last year, trade between the two countries amounted to some USD 64.4 million (EUR 50 million) compared to USD 200 million (EUR 155 million) between the impoverished Horn of Africa nation and China.

With France only ranking as Ethiopia's 11th most important trading partner, both sides would like to see those numbers improved.

In early January, Accor signed a USD 17 million (13 million) contract to construct two hotels in Addis Ababa, becoming the third largest French investor in Ethiopia behind oil giant Total and brewer Castel.

Meles, the first Ethiopian government chief to travel to France on an official bilateral tour since the reign of former emperor Haile Selassie, was due to meet with French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier on Friday.

He was to see French President Jacques Chirac on Saturday.

The media watchdog group Reporters without Borders (RSF) has asked Chirac to use the meeting with Meles to demand to press the case of two Ethiopian journalists detained in Addis Ababa for more than a year without charges.

As Ethiopia heads into general elections next month, RSF said it was critical for Meles to address the issue of the Oromo reporters, who it said were arrested for a story they did about a protest at Addis Ababa University.

"Free, fair and peaceful elections will not be able to take place in Ethiopia as long as the case ... has not been resolved in accordance with the law and the principles of justice and humanity," it said in a letter to Chirac.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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