Improving link between France, SA

2014-03-28 00:00

“WE are looking at our co-operation with South Africa and at what we can do more and better,” said Elisabeth Barbier, the French ambassador in South Africa yesterday, speaking during a two-day strategic seminar of the French Network in South Africa being held in Durban.

The seminar brings together all departments of the French embassy: business, scientific and cultural.

“Last year, the theme of the strategy session was economic diplomacy,” said Barbier, who outlined the three focus topics of this year’s seminar: the environment, including climate change, the green economy and sustainable development; building capacity and skills in South Africa; and cultural diplomacy.

The seminar is being held in Durban so participants could tap into the city’s expertise in green issues. “The municipality has been quite active in this area,” said Barbier. “And we have had input from the municipality and the university.”

Another reason for the Durban location was the climate change conference, COP 17, held in the city in 2012. “It was held successfully here and we will be sharing views and experiences in light of COP 21 being held in Paris,” said Barbier.

Several resolutions made at COP17 in Durban are supposed to be finalised at COP21. “If they don’t reach an agreement it means Durban will have been a failure,” said Barbier. “Failure is not an option.”

When it came to capacity building in South Africa, Barbier said the main French input was in the field of engineering. Joint projects are already in place at the Cape Peninsula and Tshwane Universities of Technology. “There we are involved in research and the training of engineers. We are now looking at creating a joint institute of some kind for the agricultural sector.”

On the tourism front, France clocked up the third largest number of visitors to South Africa last year after Britain and Germany — 130 000 visitors in all. Barbier hoped the France/South Africa seasons of 2012 and 2013 involving reciprocal six-month programmes, predominantly involving culture and the arts, but also sport, trade, the sciences and business, would pay further dividends in terms of tourism.

The six-month season in France saw the Eiffel Tower in Paris lit up in South African colours, “and 1 000 South African artists came to France — they created an appetite for French people to visit South Africa”.

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