Economic diplomacy – Interview given by Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to the daily newspaper Les Echos (April 8, 2014)

Q. – What’s your appraisal of how economic diplomacy has done?

THE MINISTER – Initial results have been obtained, but given the size of our deficit we must do better. The state’s action has helped get major contracts signed, particularly in Japan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and China. This action must be extended, particularly to increase the number of our exporting SMEs – France’s main foreign trade challenge. This is up to the companies themselves, of course. But it concerns all the ministries. We also need general macroeconomic measures to foster competitiveness: the Responsibility Pact, a better functioning labour market, the funding of companies with the BPI [Public Investment Bank], the extension of our product range with support for innovation and research, and favourable taxation. The government clearly can’t usurp the role of companies, but it must help them highlight their strengths internationally. That’s what economic diplomacy is; it must be continued and extended.

Q. – What advantage do you expect to gain from the broadening of your responsibilities to include foreign trade?

THE MINISTER – The goal is clear: more effectiveness – that is, better results for our economy and for employment. Foreign trade and tourism are priorities, and are now the responsibility of the Quai d’Orsay [Foreign Ministry]. The division of our networks has often been criticized, particularly by the Cour des Comptes [Auditor-General’s Department; Audit Court] and several of my predecessors. With a simplified organizational structure, we’ll be more efficient. Of course, our ambassadors will continue to fulfil their other missions: we’re not going to abandon our responsibilities in terms of peace and security, culture, education and scientific cooperation. And Bercy [Economy Ministry] will play its full role. But there will be greater consistency between the various missions contributing to France’s influence.

Q. – How do you intend to attract foreign investment to France?

THE MINISTER – The fundamental elements of our attractiveness – our employees’ level of training, the quality of our infrastructure, the calibre of our researchers – will be central to our priorities: we’re going to continue investing in the area, and set a stable goal: nothing is worse than unstable rules. But in the shorter term, we’ll also have to act in a concrete way to facilitate the arrival of investors. The Ubifrance-Invest in France Agency merger is a step in the right direction. The Strategic Investment Attractiveness Council, convened periodically by the President, will help us. I’ve embarked on a reform of visas and a modernization of our consular network which enables procedures for our target public to be simplified. We must harness the major asset that is the positive image of the French culture and way of life. In terms of taxation – a major aspect for investors – the attractiveness requirement will have to be taken into account in each decision. In short, the combination of a generally business-friendly mindset and specific measures will enable us to make progress. Our growth very much depends on an international focus; in this respect, we must be among the best.