President's visit is a win-win for Thailand, France

20th February 2006, Comments 0 comments

BANGKOK, Feb 19, 2006 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac's visit to Thailand gives France increased regional influence and grants Thailand access to commercial and diplomatic spheres outside of Asia, observers say.

BANGKOK, Feb 19, 2006 (AFP) -  French President Jacques Chirac's visit to Thailand gives France increased regional influence and grants Thailand access to commercial and diplomatic spheres outside of Asia, observers say.

Chirac, who wrapped up his first trip to Thailand as head of state on Sunday, spoke with Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on a range of issues.

But he pushed a commercial agenda that he hopes will counter the influence of other foreign countries, one analyst told AFP.

As Japan and Germany become increasingly competitive, "France is looking for more economic expansion in Thailand and the region," said Panitan Wattanayagorn, professor of international relations and political science at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand's top university.

"Politically, this is also a new area to compete to get influence. The United States, China and India are now competing for political influence in ASEAN, and France, a leading European country, does not want to be left out."

Key to this is France's involvement in Thailand's massive 44-billion-dollar public works programme, with French companies vying for lucrative transit, water and defence contracts.

Both publicly, and in private discussions with key Thai officials, Chirac and his delegation pitched French firms for the project, with the president saying he would like to see "French entrepreneurs become among the preferred partners of the Thai authorities".

Chirac brought with him 30 top French business leaders, including those from Airbus, engineering conglomerate Alstom and retail giant Carrefour, as both sides agreed to work towards boosting two-way annual trade to US $5 billion and investments to US $2 billion.

Alstom CEO Patrick Kron told AFP that good diplomacy was essential for both sides to meet their commercial goals.

"Good bilateral relations support trade," he said.

France is Thailand's third-biggest European investor after Britain and Germany, and bilateral trade rose 37 percent year-on-year to US $3.3 billion in 2005.

"This is a new area of growth in terms of the market. It's not only in Thailand but in the region as a whole," Panitan said. "France wants to see Thailand as a stepping ground to expand economic interests in the region."

Thaksin has signalled his willingness to embrace French firms and the increased foreign investment would further feed one of Southeast Asia's fastest growing economies.

"The visit of (Chirac) is very important because it accelerates business discussions," said Gerard Mestrallet, CEO of the conglomerate Suez, which hopes to build power stations in Thailand.

But more importantly for Thailand, the kingdom could gain entry into commercial and diplomatic circles outside of Asia through its relationship with Paris.

Chirac called Thailand a "privileged partner" of France, which could be the kingdom's gateway to Europe, and the French are giving "very serious" consideration to Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai's bid to succeed UN chief Kofi Annan, the Thai foreign ministry said.

"It is critical for this government to further promote the Thai candidate and strengthen the Thai drive to become a more visible leadership in the international arena," Panitan said.

"It is part of the Thai government's drive to seek strategic partnership with key global powers. Without French support, it could be problematic."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article