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For the first time in the history of independent Belarus, the French President visited Minsk on 11 and 12 February 2016 (“Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements”).
Since 2014, reflecting a gradual warming of relations between the European Union and Belarus, political contacts have increased between France and Belarus (double visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus in France; visit by the Belarusian Minister of Agriculture; visit by the Belarusian Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment; visit to Paris by the Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus; visit to Belarus by the French Political Director).
As the 14th-largest supplier of Belarus and its 6th-largest European supplier, France has a 1% market share in Belarus, while Germany has a share of 6%.
French exports to Belarus fell during the first 11 months of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014 (-10%). However, the trade balance has become positive again (up €15 million), mostly due to the decrease of imports from Belarus (-35% in value terms), linked to the collapse of oil prices. Our exports are diversified (manufacturing industry, chemicals, perfumes and cosmetics, pharmaceuticals).
There is a high potential for developing trade. The entry into force of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) in 2015 has created new opportunities, particularly for French companies already established in Russia. In 2010, credit insurance policy was again opened up to Belarus. In June 2013, MEDEF International received Belarusian ministers of the Economy and Finance in Paris. The first meeting of the bilateral Joint Commission for Economic Cooperation on 13 February 2015 brought together the two countries’ business communities.
Bilateral cultural cooperation has two main prongs: the study of French and promotion of Francophonie, and academic cooperation.
Regarding the study of French, a network of French-speaking bilingual sections was established in 1997, offering a bilingual four-year course from lower to higher secondary school level. It consists of eight establishments, one in Minsk and seven in the regions. An administrative arrangement on the opening and operation of this network was signed on 12 November 2015 to include this bilingual course in the list of free compulsory courses approved by the Belarusian Ministry of Education. The Embassy of France in Belarus also offers students French language certification and classes at the French-Belarusian Centre for European Studies (CFB). The promotion and dissemination of Francophonie in Belarus has been supported since 1996 by the French Media Library in Minsk and its network of ten French information offices and reading rooms throughout the territory.
The main tool for student cooperation between France and Belarus is the French-Belarusian Centre for European Studies (CFB), which offers a delocalized University of Bordeaux degree course. This course leads Belarusian students to a university degree in political science and European studies and the first year of a Master’s degree in European Laws. Some 230 students attend the course each year and 25 graduate on average.
The artistic programming managed by the French Embassy in Belarus is a showcase for this two-pronged cooperation and is marked by four events each year: participation in the Minsk International Book Fair in February which brings together French authors, publishers, translators and illustrators; the Month of Francophonie in March, participation in the Month of Photography in Minsk in October, and participation by France in the Minsk International Film Festival (MIFF) “Listapad” in November which was attended by the French actress Fanny Ardant in 2015. In addition to these events, some 20 events take place throughout the year in the fields of music, theatre, design, architecture and gastronomy.