France and Bolivia have maintained good, but traditionally limited diplomatic relations since 1845. Two French Presidents have visited Bolivia: General de Gaulle in 1964 and President Chirac in 1997.
President Evo Morales was received in France as President elect in January 2006. He returned to France on an official visit in May 2006 and February 2015. He paid a working visit to France on 12-13 March 2013, during which he met with the President of the Republic. These visits confirmed the friendly nature of our relationship. They were opportunities for the French President to express his wish to deepen political dialogue and bilateral cooperation with Bolivia.
And our political relationship has indeed grown more intense. The two Heads of State met on 24 September 2013 in New York, in the margins of the UN General Assembly. They met again in the margins of the 69ᵗʰ UNGA on 25 September 2014 for a bilateral meeting and in June 2015 in the margins of the EU-CELAC Summit. The Vice President of Bolivia, Mr Álvaro García Linera, was received in Paris in May 2014 by the President of the French Senate. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development met with President Evo Morales on the sidelines of COP21 in Lima, in December 2014, and Cochabamba, in October 2015.
The Bolivian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr David Choquehuanca, has visited France on several occasions: January and July 2008, January 2011, 17 October 2012, and 13 November 2013. During these last two visits, he was received by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The Minister Delegate for the Social, Mutually Supportive Economy, Mr Benoît Hamon, visited Bolivia on 19 January 2014, together with a delegation of business leaders.
Since 2009, bilateral relations have been punctuated by political consultations at senior official level. The most recent were held in Paris on 13 November 2013.
Trade between Bolivia and France is limited (0.02% of our trade), but has steadily improved in the past five years. Distance, the low diversification of the Bolivian economy and the legal framework which is often not very conducive to investment, deter many of our companies (some 10 French firms are represented in Bolivia). French investment, which is estimated at over US$500 million, could more than double over the next two years with the involvement of Total (development of the Incahuasi gas field).
Our trade deficit is falling (-€21.4 million in 2015, down -55.1% compared with 2013). This is a structural deficit, owing to our purchases of mining products and metals. The geographical isolation of this small market also explains low direct sales, because many French products found in Bolivia are imported and distributed from neighbouring countries (Chile, Peru and Brazil). Certain French products and equipment are therefore imported via third countries and do not appear in bilateral statistics.
Our exports are rising sharply, but still remain at a low level (0.02% of our exports or €26 million in the first half of 2015, +120% compared to 2013). Bolivia is ranked 121ˢᵗ among our customers. Main exports are, by order of importance, transport equipment (58%), other industrial products (23%) and other equipment (16%).
Imports from Bolivia mostly consist of mining products and are increasing after falling in 2013. They amounted to €106 million in 2014 and have risen 29%. Main imports are oil and other extractive industry products (41%), organic chemicals (25%) and cereals (14%, mainly quinoa). Bolivia was our 97ᵗʰ-largest supplier in 2014 and still accounts for less than 0.02% of our total imports.
In the absence of positive reform of the legal framework for foreign investment, French FDI in Bolivia is not expected to increase substantially in the near future (excluding the gas sector). Our Investment Protection Agreement (IPA), which was signed in 1989 and entered into force in 1996, was terminated in early May 2013, as the new Constitution prohibits any recourse to international arbitration. The “Investment Law”, which is intended to protect the interests of foreign investors, was passed in 2014.
Cultural cooperation is based on the French-Bolivian Lycée in La Paz (1,044 pupils), the French Lycée in Santa Cruz (it has 485 students and continues to expand), and five Alliances Françaises (La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Sucre and Tarija, accounting for nearly 2,500 students, half of whom are in La Paz). In the scientific field, the French Institute for Andean Studies (IFEA) and a branch of the Research Institute for Development (IRD) with a dozen researchers, are working in particular on the issue of climate change and the melting of glaciers. This network promotes the French language, French education (primary, secondary and higher education via the Campus France office), as well as French thinking, scientific expertise and cultural industries. In addition, some 20 university cooperation partnerships and framework agreements have been signed by French and Bolivian establishments. Discussions are under way with our Bolivian partners to boost student exchanges. These mainly relate to high-level training in the fields of energy, aviation, petrochemistry, geology, environmental sciences and information technology. France receives some 350 Bolivian students every year. University cooperation has been strengthened in recent months by the Sovereignty Scholarships programme of the Bolivian Government. More than some 20 scholarship holders selected by the Bolivian authorities (24 out of 39) have chosen France for high-level scientific studies.
French development cooperation is governed by a Debt Reduction and Development Contract (C2D) whose scope is determined by the cancellation of Bolivia’s public debt to France, under the World Bank’s Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative (€16.9 million). Priorities include health and public management, which were identified in consultation with the Bolivian Government, in accordance with the National Development Plan. In the field of health, the C2D has made it possible to build and equip a hospital and a laboratory in Santa Cruz since 2003, as well as a mother and child centre in Guayaramerin, and to strengthen health networks and access to care. For governance, C2D funds have been used since 2009 to support the development of Bolivia’s Plurinational Public Management School (EGPP), notably by strengthening the continuous training of civil servants and local government officials, and encouraging research activities relating to governance and public administration. In 2015, an additional €3 million was committed to facilitate investments including the purchase of a hospital ship, equipped with a device for filtering water, for isolated populations in Amazonia.
The AFD has been authorized to work in Bolivia since autumn 2014, supporting development projects for green and inclusive growth in the areas of energy, water and sanitation, and urban mobility. Its 2016 action plan includes finance for a solar power plant (Cochabamba, $125 million), a wind farm ($50 million) and a hydroelectric plant (Banda Azul, $230 million), as well as three water treatment plants, an irrigation project (Cochabamba, $34 million) and the Santa Cruz de la Sierra tramway project.
Police cooperation in the areas of judicial police, airport security and the fight against drug trafficking (training of police, customs and Bolivian judges is regularly organized).
Updated: 17 May 2016