The French Connection
    Category: Issues & Ideas By : Taufik Darusman Read : 681 Date : Thursday, January 04, 2018 - 15:45:14

    Ahmad Zamroni / Forbes Indonesia

    France-Indonesia relations could not be in better hands—those of Ambassador Jean-Charles Berthonnet, 60, a seasoned diplomat with top-tier posts such as New York, London and Moscow on his CV. In recent years, he has been assigned in Eastern Europe (Hungary and Lithuania) capped by an ambassadorship in Kazakhstan. “I am, career-wise, moving more and more eastward, now with my post in Indonesia,” he quips.

    He is also moving fast. Arriving in Jakarta in October 2016, he prepared the state visit of the-then French President Francois Hollande to Indonesia in March last year. Some $2.6 billion worth of investment commitments were signed during President Hollande’s visit, covering defense, and maritime and fishery issues. “It is a show of French confidence in Indonesia,” says Berthonnet, who trained as an economist, saying bilateral relations will continue to grow as both countries share common interests in many areas. Below are excerpts from a recent interview with Berthonnet.

    Forbes Indonesia: Will policy toward Indonesia change under the new French president?

    Jean-Charles Berthonnet: In fact, we have strengthened our approach towards Indonesia. France is now more conscious of the importance of Indonesia as a growing economy with a huge market. We appreciate Indonesia’s commitment on major issues such as climate control and combatting terrorism and radical Muslims. We also take note of Indonesia’s assertive foreign policy on global and regional issues. This is also one reason why the-then President Francois Hollande made a point of coming to Indonesia, in March last year, the first visit by a French leader in over 30 years since Francois Mitterrand came to Jakarta in 1986.

    FI: What is the bilateral trade situation between the two countries?

    JCB: In 2016, the bilateral trade volume reached $5.2 billion, up from $4.6 billion in 2015. The figures for 2017 are still being updated. The balance is in favor of France—but not significantly. Our exports are mostly aircraft-related items, electronics, pharmaceuticals and agricultural products while we import textiles, garments and footwear from Indonesia.

    FI: How large is French investment here?

    JCB: Up to 2016, total French investment here, including in the oil sector, stands at about $6 billion. Last year French companies invested $200 million, a figure that is expected to double this year. France ranks third among EU countries in terms of foreign investment here.

    FI: What large-scale investment projects are French companies engaged in here?

    JCB: L’Oreal has built its biggest factory worldwide here, while Michelin is currently constructing a synthetic rubber plant. Danone is a major player in the bottled water business.

    FI: What about Indonesian investments in France? 

    JCB: Not much—but there are encouraging signs. Sinar Mas bought two paper mills in the south of France. We would like to see more Indonesian companies in France, the rules and regulations allow foreigners to have a 100% stake without a local partner.

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