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Matthias Fekl is Minister of State for Foreign Trade, the Promotion of Tourism and French Nationals Abroad, which is attached to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development of France. He will be visiting Addis Ababa to participate in the 3rd Ethio-French Business Forum and will also officially inaugurate Business France Office in Addis Ababa that aims to share information on business opportunities in Ethiopia and link French companies to the best Ethiopian partners or customers. He talked to Capital about his expectation ahead of the forum. Excerpts:

Capital: You will be in Addis Ababa next week to co-chair the 3rd Ethio-French Business Forum. What should we expect from the forum?

Matthias Fekl: First let me underline how happy I am to pay an official visit to Ethiopia, a country with which we enjoy a longstanding, deep-rooted and confident relationship. As you know, France just hosted the Paris Climate conference and I must say that the contribution of Ethiopia to this historic conference has been outstanding. Ethiopia knows the danger of climate disruption and has consequently adopted a model of green development which is a source of inspiration for many. I am proud that France, as a climate partner of Ethiopia, is contributing to the implementation of this strategy. I am also proud that French companies are already playing a strong role in the development of renewable energy in this country.

I am delighted to participate again in this annual forum, and to see that it is becoming more important and valuable each year. The first two editions (2013 in Addis Ababa, 2014 in Paris) confirmed the increasing interest of French companies for Ethiopia and its growing opportunities. In 2013, we had 25 French companies, 30 in 2014. For this edition, the French delegation gathers 44 companies all very interested in the opportunities of the Ethiopian market.

We expect to build new partnerships between Ethiopian and French companies. With the success stories of the Ashegoda wind farm, BGI or TOTAL, French companies have already contributed to the development of the Ethiopian economy. Today, France is eager to develop its market share in Ethiopia with high quality and innovative products, technology and services. This forum offers a great opportunity for both our companies and our governments to forge new projects, to deliver new technology transfers, to establish new partnerships, involving both the public and private sectors.

Ethiopia also offers several opportunities in the agribusiness sector, in which French companies enjoy a real expertise. More specifically, our companies can provide agricultural inputs and machinery, industrial equipment, as well as the entire range of material needed to boost the sugar production. Significant investment have already been realized by French companies to develop local productions for instance by BGI-Castel, with beer and wine production, or by Nutriset with a local partner to produce food products to combat malnutrition.

Capital: What are the businesses that will accompany you here?

Fekl: The 44 companies represent the diversity of French (and European) technology and know-how. Some are large companies, world leaders/stake-holders, in energy, transport, aircraft, satellites, urban development, retail, banking, insurance, secured documents (passports, ID, visa), construction material, air catering – some are small and very innovative enterprises, with state-of-the-art technology: modular bridges, electronic weighing systems, technical textiles, hair-products…All of them are looking for Ethiopian partners and want to develop a long term strategy in Ethiopia. Some of them, such as Feljas & Masson, already operate in Ethiopia and are interested in locating some of their production process in Ethiopia, given their expanding business. Some others, like Decathlon [sports clothing and footwear], think very seriously to expand in Ethiopia by investing or creating new production facilities.

Capital: There will also be the inauguration of the Business France Office in Addis Ababa. What will be the responsibilities of this office and how will it help strengthen the business ties of the two countries?

Fekl: It is important to underline that the opening of this Business France Office is an important additional step to support the growing business ties. Two years ago, immediately after the 1stEthio-French business forum, the French Ministry of Foreign affairs and international development decided to reinforce our commercial support to SMEs (Small & medium enterprises) by posting an additional staff member in the Embassy to focus on promoting bilateral trade and opportunities between the two countries. This light structure registered very good results over the past two years. This convinced us to further develop our tools to support the blooming bilateral trade ties. As such, the opening of a dedicated Business France Office, part of the Embassy of France in Ethiopia and to the African Union, will play a key role in promoting more actively French economic development with more financial and dedicated support, especially towards SME. Its duty is dual: share information on business opportunities in Ethiopia and link French companies to the best Ethiopian partners or customers. It is mainly a match-making mission which will benefit French & Ethiopian companies with the aim of successful partnerships.

Capital: what does the relationship of the two countries with regards to doing business, look like and what are the challenges that the two sides face?

Fekl: For the French government, we want more French companies to come and succeed in Ethiopia. President Hollande and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn agreed, when they met in Paris, that the market share of French companies is too low compared to the potential of our technology and of the Ethiopian market. France wants to become a global partner of the African development: remember that more than a century ago, some French investors and engineers bet on the Ethiopian potential and developed the first railway between Djibouti and Addis Ababa.

On the Ethiopian side, I believe the Ethiopian government is willing to attract more French investments in the country. In recent years, our presence in Ethiopia has become more important and our companies have proven to be reliable and committed to quality and security. They thus constitute a trustworthy partner to implement successful and strategic projects for the development of Ethiopia. It is important that the Ethiopian authorities keep improving the business environment and open more sectors to foreign investors, such as the logistics, telecommunications, banking and insurance sectors. That way, I can assure you that French companies will continue to come to invest in Ethiopia, to share their technology, to train local staff and to contribute to the industrialization of the country.

Capital: French transport companies are interested to involve in the transport sector in Ethiopia, according to the past two forums. Will there be something new during this forum?

Fekl: Transport is indeed strategic for Ethiopia and France. France has the best technology in high-speed trains and the best highway network in Europe. It also hosts the main manufacturing site of Airbus, a European company, in Toulouse. We have thus a real expertise and know-how in this sector. During this forum, we are organizing a special round-table on transport, considering the remarkable success of a company like Ethiopian Airlines as well as the numerous projects in Ethiopia (LRT in Addis, railways between Addis Ababa and Djibouti and between Awash and Woldyia). The French delegation includes Airbus, air catering Servair, as well as Systra (an urban and rail public transport civil engineering consulting firm) and SNCF (France’s national state-owned railway company) or Total, but also smaller very innovative companies like Matière, which can offers modular-bridge technology for Ethiopian Road Authority, and the company Captels, which designs electronic weighing systems for aircrafts or trucks.

Capital: What are the major success stories that came out from the previous two forums?

Fekl: Last year in Paris, more than 100 individual meetings were organized between French and Ethiopian companies. Some projects, especially in infrastructure, are long-process and discussions have been initiated and are still on-going. In other sectors, such as consumer goods (cosmetics, pharmaceuticals), commercial deals are faster. For instance, the French company CEDA (quality hair products) is to sign with a local company.

Capital: The energy sector is the other thing French businesses are interested, will there be any deal regarding the energy sector development?

Fekl: With transport, energy is also a strategic sector between France and Ethiopia. After the success of the Ashegoda wind farm, built by Vergnet and Alstom, many French companies are interested in wind, solar and geothermal projects, while other offer solution for off-grid electricity generation as well as back-up supply (for hospitals, datacenters…). In the delegation, several companies are really interested in continuing to develop the high energy potential of Ethiopia and are ready to evaluate projects where a higher level of investment from the private sector is required.

Capital: How do you evaluate the trade balance between the two countries?

Fekl: Globally, trade between France and Ethiopia is too low. Ethiopia mainly exports agriculture products to France (especially its excellent coffee (which represented 88% of exports to France in 2014) and to a lesser extent flowers, 4,5%). As for France, it primarily exports pharmaceutical products. We both need to diversify our of products portfolio: Ethiopia could export more textile and leather products). France could export high quality products such as electrical, software, industrial equipment, as well as more consumer goods (cosmetics, gourmet food, wines…).

Capital: What is the main purpose of Business France Office, which you will officially inaugurate?

Fekl: I am very proud to be officially opening this new office within the Embassy of France. We will have dedicated staff in Addis Ababa to assist French and Ethiopian companies to do business together. The French government is thus investing in Ethiopia! As previously mentioned, Business France in Addis Ababa will share information on business opportunities in Ethiopia and link French companies to the best Ethiopian partners or customers. It is a simple but efficient way to promote trade between our two countries.