France and the Congo have strong bilateral relations punctuated by frequent visits.
Recent bilateral visits
• 14 June 2016: visit to Paris by Mr Jean-Claude Gakosso, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation, & Congolese Abroad.
• 16 October 2015: visit to Paris by Mr Jean-Claude Gakosso, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation, & Congolese Abroad.
• 24 July 2015: visit by Mr Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Defence.
• 7-8 July 2015: visit to Paris by President Sassou, who was received at the Élysée Palace by the President of the French Republic and had meetings with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development.
• 6 February 2015: visit to France by Mr Isidore Mvouba, Minister of State for Industrial Development and Promotion of the Private Sector, Mr Gilbert Ondongo, Minister of State for the Economy, Finance, Planning, the Public Portfolio and Integration, and Mr Jean-Jacques Bouya, Minister of Territorial Management and Major Projects.
• 28 October 2014: visit by Mr Jean-Jacques Bouya, Minister of Territorial Management and Major Projects.
• 14 July and 15 August 2014: visit to France by Mr Charles Richard Mondjo, Minister of Defence.
• 18-19 May 2014: visit by Mr Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Defence.
• 9-11 February 2014: visit by Mr Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Defence.
• 16-22 January 2014: private visit by Mr Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of the Republic of the Congo.
• 2 January 2014: visit by Mr Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Defence.
• 27-29 November 2013: visit by Ms Yamina Benguigui, Minister Delegate for Francophonie.
• 10-11 July 2013: visit by Ms Yamina Benguigui, Minister Delegate for Francophonie.
• 6-12 April 2013: visit to Paris by Mr Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of the Republic of the Congo.
• 2-3 May 2012: visit by Mr Jean-Paul Delevoye, President of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council.
• 5-6 February 2012: visit by Mr Edouard Courtial, Minister of State for French Nationals Abroad.
• 8 February 2012: visit to Paris by Mr Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of the Republic of the Congo.
• 1-3 June 2011: visit by Mr Thierry Mariani, Minister for Transport, for the Summit on the Three Rainforest Basins.
• 29 September-1 October 2010: visit by Ms Anne-Marie Idrac, Minister of State for Foreign Trade.
• 15-17 August 2010: visit by Mr Gérard Larcher, President of the French Senate, for the 50th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of the Congo.
• 14 July 2010: visit to Paris by Mr Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of the Republic of the Congo.
• May 2010: visit by Mr Denis Sassou Nguesso for the Africa-France Summit held in Nice.
• 26 April 2010: meeting in Paris between Mr Denis Sassou Nguesso and Mr Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the French Republic.
• 9 January 2010: visit by Mr Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign Affairs.
• 26-27 March 2009: visit by Mr Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the French Republic.
The Congo is France’s main customer in Central Africa. Within sub-Saharan Africa (52 countries), the Congo was the fifth-largest importer of French products in 2015 (after South Africa, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal) and accounted for France’s third-largest trade surplus (€566.5 million) after South Africa and Senegal. From 2005, there was a strong upward trend in French exports to the Congo, which then stabilized before picking up again in 2012 (+20%). This trend was confirmed in 2015: exports rose 3% to €654.7 million, making France the second-largest supplier to the Congo after China. French exports are diverse and include capital goods, consumer goods (mainly pharmaceutical products), intermediate goods and agrifood products.
France’s stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the Congo - €2,087 million at the end of 2014, compared with €1,906 million at the end of 2013 - makes France one of the main foreign investors, alongside Italy (oil, wood, gold), the United States (oil, milling, tobacco) and China (cement, wood).
France bore the brunt of the debt cancellation agreed in the framework of the Paris Club. The Paris Club agreement of 18 March 2010, which followed that of December 2008, granted the Congo further debt cancellation and rescheduling at both bilateral and multilateral levels, since it had reached the completion point of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. On 19 July 2010, debt of €646 million was cancelled.
There are almost 200 companies with a French stake based in the Congo; half of these are French subsidiaries and the rest are Congolese businesses with French management and/or shareholders. They employ some 15,000 people, including many French expatriates and around 80 VIE (Volontariat international en entreprise) interns. These businesses play a prominent role in the oil and oil services sector, transport and logistics, agrifood, engineering and services, public works and civil engineering, banking and insurance, distribution and, as of recently, delegated management of public services.
In the oil industry, Total has been active in the Congo in exploration and production since 1968. As the country’s largest oil operator, the group signed a “general settlement agreement” in 2003 and launched a pro-active development policy. This policy has included, for example, bringing the Moho Bilondo field into production in 2008, as the first deep offshore field in the Congo, and signing an agreement on 22 March 2013 on the exploitation of the Moho Bilondo Nord reserve ($10 billion investment). Perenco also operates in the Congo in the field of oil production.
French cooperation is firmly established in the Congo. Since 2013, it has no longer been structured around a partnership framework document, since the Congo is not a priority poor country as defined by the Interministerial Committee for International Cooperation and Development (CICID). Assistance is focused on infrastructure, human development and sustainable development.
French cooperation also aims to strengthen the rule of law (justice, police and gendarmerie), to improve people’s living conditions (public health, educational and cultural cooperation), to strengthen State bodies and public services and to support economic initiatives.
When the completion point of the HIPC Initiative was reached in January 2010 and a Paris Club agreement was signed in March 2010, the country was granted multilateral and bilateral debt cancellation. Additional bilateral efforts were made by France in the form of debt reduction and development contracts (C2D) for a total of €230 million for 2010-2019 (€150 million for 2015-2019), which is used to subsidize many projects; the Congo has also been eligible for sovereign loans since 2014. This aspect of cooperation is implemented by the AFD (French Development Agency).
AFD flagship projects include building the Route de la Corniche in Brazzaville (€80 million), a rainwater drainage project in Brazzaville (€86 million), reorganizing the vocational and technical training system (€6 million), supporting the implementation of the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) process (£4.5 million from the UK Department for International Development, DFID) and financing the ASTRIUM programme for the provision of satellite data to help track changes in Central African forest cover (€8.5 million).
French cooperation also supports French NGOs by funding initiatives in a wide range of sectors (health, protecting vulnerable children, local development, etc.) and a coordinated multi-actor programme aiming to enhance local civil society organizations.
Security and defence cooperation mainly seeks to support the Congo in its efforts towards greater participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations. It includes supporting the reorganization of the gendarmerie, the army and the police force, management training, reorganization of the military health service, and support for the regionally-oriented national school (ENVR) for engineering and works which opened in October 2009 and has been open to students from other countries since September 2010. This school, a flagship bilateral cooperation project, is gradually expanding by broadening its range of courses, its recruitment and its sources of financing (mainly from the EU). In 2015, it was recognized as a centre of excellence for regional cooperation. French cooperation also supports the Congo’s maritime security efforts, which are reflected, in particular, in its hosting of CRESMAC, the Regional Centre for Maritime Security in Central Africa. Lastly, action is also being taken in the field of aviation security, through the ASACA project to support civil aviation security in Africa.