Concrete support for lasting peace through development

H.E. Madame Christine Robichon, French Ambassador in Sri Lanka, explains the potential of France-Sri Lanka relations

French involvement in Sri Lanka dates
from early in the modern age with the
activity of French missionaries (several schools around the country, like St. Joseph’s College, Colombo, were founded by French missionaries) as well as military action that was focused on Trincomalee. In fact, in 1672, the French were able to take control of the harbour that has been admired as being “the finest harbour
in the world” (British Admiral Horatio
Nelson). They lost it to Dutch power
and were able to reclaim it in 1782, losing it again, this time to the British, in 1783. Current French involvement in Sri Lanka goes back about half a century and has been mutually beneficial.

The French economy is the 5th largest
in the world. As Mr. Jean-Louis Poli,
Trade Commissioner at the embassy,
pointed out, with 20 million people, Sri Lanka offers a very small market. Nevertheless, France has several reasons to develop trade and commercial relations with Sri Lanka. To begin with, as Her Excellency Madame Robichon observed, France wishes Sri Lanka well in her post conflict journey towards reconstruction, reconciliation and development and is glad to participate in the process. Secondly,
Sri Lanka is an effective gateway to the Indian and Pakistani markets as a consequence of the free trade agreements that are in place. And thirdly, France is conscious of the need to engage with growing
markets for the sake of her own economic wellbeing. It all adds up to mutual benefit for both nations.

The French government played a role
in reconstruction after the tsunami. Currently it plays a role in post conflict reconstruction and development through
several agencies, such as the French Development Agency (Agence Française de Développement), providing financing on concessional terms for projects associated with infrastructure, community development and so on. Some projects have a large component of funding from the French government and a small component from agencies such as the ADB; in other projects the proportions are reversed. One of these projects was the reconstruction of the A15, linking Batticaloa
to Trincomalee, which included
building 5 bridges to replace the small ferries. The impact has been that travelling time up and down the East coast has been greatly reduced.

Sri Lanka is blessed with a great many
waterways and water bodies and France has been involved in supporting her use and management of these systems via water and waste water management projects. H.E. Mme Robichon and Mr. Poli were very proud of and enthusiastic
about one such project: a waste water treatment project with public and private partnership in the tourist sector in Pasikkudah. The private companies involved are Hayleys, on the Sri Lankan end, and Veolia, on the French end, and the Ministry
of Tourism in Sri Lanka for the public
sector partner. Mr. Poli pointed out that this is the first ever such public-private project in tourism in Sri Lanka and will eventually benefit the 13 hotels that are planned in the area of the project. French involvement in Sri Lanka’s waterways go back almost 40 years and include development of multiple facets of the Kantale Tank – all of which are recorded with plaques for the information
of the curious visitor. The development of the tank has benefitted about 300,000 people. In the near future, another project
will support Sri Lanka’s journey of
development with 46 metal bridges to ease travel across small waterways where such a facility does not currently exist.

There are clearly many business opportunities
associated with the French
government’s commitment to support the process of development and reconstruction in Sri Lanka. Additionally, in the area of trade, France imports mostly textiles and apparel from Sri Lanka. Mr. Poli and H.E. Mme Robichon were quick to point out that in 2012 there was an
increase in textile purchases from Sri
Lanka by French retailers. This occurred, as Mr. Poli said, in spite of general difficulties in the overall economy of the EU. That France should have imported more textiles from Sri Lanka last year than previously reflects that the French economy is growing. H.E. Mme Robichon also highlighted the facts that French retailers are clearly happy with the product that Sri Lankasupplies and they appreciate the quality of what they purchase here. Mr. Poli pointed out that there had been “a general decline in consumption as well in France over 2012, making the increase in demand for Sri Lankan textiles all the more remarkable.” The potential for trade and commercial relations between France and Sri Lanka is broad. From the French side, there is a focus on specific sectors like dairies, energy and health. Potential areas for investment include green energy, water and waste management, forests and urban development.
Business and investment opportunities are facilitated by the ECCSL, the Sri Lanka France Business Council, the French embassy
and the French Development Agency
amongst others.

In the broader context of relations between Sri Lanka and France, French is the second most popular European language taught in Sri Lanka after English and the Alliance Française has branches in Kotte, Jaffna, Kandy, Matara and Galle. Sri Lankan
film makers and artistes are recognised and valued in France and have won many awards
at a range of film festivals. Most recently, the embassy introduced the “French Spring Festival” in Sri Lanka just last year. French Spring Festivals feature in other countries in the region and are organised annually by
the French cultural network and local partners with the aim of strengthening the links between local and French artists. H.E. Mme
Robichon sees this event as another contribution to Sri Lanka’s recovery because “the arts bring people together, so it will help to heal the wounds of war.” The festival was
centred in Colombo, last year, but events were also held in Kandy, Jaffna and Galle. The current French Spring Festival runs from the 21st of June to the 14th of July

Article published on Eurolink (July issue 2013)
By Sandra Fernando

Online 05/09/2013

top of the page