Following a freeze in political relations during the dictatorship, high-level contacts were re-established in 1989. Chile is a historic partner of France in the field of innovative financing for development. France provides the permanent secretariat of the Leading Group on Innovative Financing for Development.
Official visits take place regularly: visit by President Chirac to Santiago in May 2006; visit to France by President Michelle Bachelet in May 2009 and by President Sebastián Piñera in October 2010. President Bachelet made another official visit to France on 8-9 June 2015. On that occasion, a joint declaration on the strengthening of a special partnership was signed by the two Presidents and a number of bilateral agreements were signed on tourism, a working holiday programme, education, women’s rights, economic projects, etc. Ms Bachelet, accompanied by Mr Muñoz, Minister of External Relations, also met the President of the Republic on 2 June 2016, in the margins of the OECD Ministerial meeting in Paris.
Ministerial visits also maintain the excellent quality of the bilateral relationship: in January 2013, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault visited Santiago to attend the EU-CELAC Summit. He was accompanied by four ministers: Ms Marisol Touraine, Mr Bernard Cazeneuve, Mr Pascal Canfin and Mr Benoît Hamon. Mr Rodrigo Peñailillo, Chilean Minister of the Interior and Public Security, met with Mr Bernard Cazeneuve in Paris on 2 October 2014 in order to benefit from French experience in the fight against terrorism. Mr Nicolás Eyzaguirre Guzmán, Chilean Minister of Education, visited France on 6 November 2014, when the Education Bill was being discussed by the Senate of Chile, in order to meet his counterpart and study the French education system; Ms Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Minister of Women’s Rights, visited Chile from 23 to 26 April 2015 to discuss these issues; Mr Jorge Burgos, Chilean Defence Minister, visited France in November 2014, and Mr Ottone, Minister for Culture, met his counterpart in 2015. For economic issues, the Chilean Ministers of the economy, transport and communication, public works and energy have made several trips to Paris since 2015.
France’s role in Chile is in keeping with its economic weight in Europe. Three-quarters of CAC 40 listed companies have a significant presence in Chile. A quarter of them hold a leading position in the market. Some play a key role in Chile’s economy: two ENGIE subsidiaries (E-CL and Aguas Andinas) are listed in Santiago and Sodexo is one of the top five private employers in Chile. In 2015, France was Chile’s fourth-largest European supplier (third-largest in 2014) and the second-largest European car exporter. Owing to Chile’s weight in the global supply of copper (accounting for almost one-third of global production and over a third of world exports), the French trade deficit is structural. The copper cycle downturn led to a sharp fall in investment and demand for consumer durables, which strongly hit French exports in 2014 (€667 million compared to €760.4 million in 2013, or a 12.3% drop) as well as in 2015 (€656 million, a 1.6% drop).
On the other hand, France holds a very important position in the strategic sectors of energy and infrastructure. French operators cover the range of energy sources whose development is considered a priority by the Chilean Energy Agenda published in May 2014: Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) (Mejillones LNG terminal operated by ENGIE and the El Campesino power plant project in association with EDF) and renewables (GDF Suez wind farm, Solairedirect portfolio of project investments, El Salvador Solar Park inaugurated by Total Energies Nouvelles (EN) in January 2015, DCNS research centre on marine energy won at the end of last year, EDF projects). At the end of 2014, Engie and EDF were awarded 60% of regulated capacity auctions.
Regarding infrastructure, French engineering continues to play an active part in developing the Santiago Metro (Colas Rail and SYSTRA), the financing of which is mainly structured by BNP Paribas. In February 2015, the concession to operate Santiago International Airport and build a second terminal was awarded to the ADPI-VINCI Airports consortium.
Chilean investment stock in France totals US$616 million. However, Luksic Group’s shareholding in the French company Nexans, through Invexans, alone totals US$487 million (in 2016). In 2015, Chilean conglomerate Sigdo Koppers, announced the takeover of Dijon’s Davey Bickford group, a world leader in detonators.
France is present in Chile through its Institut français in Santiago and nine Alliances françaises (Antofagasta, La Serena, Viña del Mar, Chillán, Concepción, Valdivia, Osorno, Puerto Montt and Easter Island).
Its relationship with Chile is most vibrant and diversified in the cultural, scientific and academic fields.
In the academic field, there are now 12 specific agreements on higher education and research, which have helped start several bilateral programmes and develop institutional cooperation between the ministries of education and higher education of both countries. Almost 350 agreements have been signed between French and Chilean universities. France is the third-largest host country of Chilean students (there were 800 students in French institutions in 2015/16). In March 2014, the University of Technology of Compiègne (UTC) inaugurated a campus at the French Lycée in Viña del Mar, supported by Engie, which hosts a common core of Latin American and French engineering students. An agreement on mutual recognition of studies and diplomas, to pursue higher education in the partner country, was signed in June 2015 during Michelle Bachelet’s official visit to France.
In the field of vocational training, cooperation is strengthened through public-private partnerships: four training centres in automotive mechatronics created with Peugeot (2009), which recently formed a partnership with Total, as well as a training centre in civil and railway engineering with Colas-Rail (2015).
In the field of research, Chile focuses on creating centres of excellence and on industrial development, with universities as key players. By 2018, the government aims to increase resources allocated to research and innovation to 1.2% of GDP. The wealth of French-Chilean scientific cooperation is founded on long-standing ties and significant investment by major French research bodies such as the CNRS and INRIA. This cooperation is structured around ECOS, a Policy and scientific cooperation evaluation programme which provides funding for some 50 research projects each year. Since 1992, over 400 projects have been selected.
Scientific cooperation between Chile and France consists of several shared research units: a Joint International Unit (IMU) opened in September 2011 by the CNRS in the field of astronomy, in addition to the Mathematical Modelling Centre; four International Associated Laboratories (LIA) linked to the CNRS and two LIAs associated with the French Research Institute for Development (IRD). In August 2011, the Chilean Economic Development Agency (CORFO) within the Ministry of the Economy, selected INRIA’s project to create a centre of excellence in information technology (Communication and Information Research and Innovation Centre, CIRIC), with a budget of €30 million over ten years and geared towards research and technology transfer. INRIA has also signed an agreement with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), extending the existing cooperation on innovation for two years. In 2015, CORFO again selected a DCNS-led project to create a centre of excellence on marine renewable energy (MERIC).
France continues to have real influence in Chile, particularly in the fields of performing and visual arts, and is assisting the Chilean government as it considers creating a Ministry for Culture and Heritage (meeting in March 2016 between the two Culture Ministers).
The sharing of ideas, which mobilizes French expertise and intellectuals (Michel Foucault Chair, the d’Alembert Fund, Puerto de Ideas Foundation, etc.), is an essential component of our outreach in Chile.
A declaration of intent regarding women’s rights was signed during Ms Bachelet’s visit in 2015. This will enable French experience in this area to be shared with Chile.
Finally, many French local governments (Ile-de-France, Bourgogne, Dordogne, Finistère, Hérault and Paris) are developing decentralized cooperation projects. A bilateral agreement signed in March 2014 provided a legal framework and greater impetus for this kind of cooperation.
Updated: 1 July 2016