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The French residence, a tool supporting France’s economic diplomacy

Etienne Rolland-Piègue - Séoul, République de Corée - 19 février 2015

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The residence of a French Embassy can contribute to sharing objective information and debunking certain clichés or false perceptions concerning France, its businesses and its economy. Our ambassadors can act as advocates for France’s reputation, presenting arguments to encourage foreign investments in the country and giving a helping hand to our exports.

Sometimes French businesses abroad do not highlight their nation of origin. They are global groups, with diverse shareholders and staff around the world, who implement their strategies globally. In some local contexts, there is no sense in position a company as being French. In countries like China, Japan and Korea, the public does not necessarily make a distinction between European countries or between European and American businesses. Many people in Asia believe Axa is an English-speaking company, and are surprised to learn that the ‘A’s in Axa stand for “Agents” and “Assurance”, and not “America”.

For other companies however, the French flag is a key component of their success. In the luxury and gastronomic sectors, the label “France” is seen as a symbol of lifestyle and sophistication ; Some players draw on the prestige of the city of light, such as L’Oréal and the HEC School of Management group, which mention “Paris” on their logos.

French banks, standing firm in the storm

What about the financial sector ? At the height of the financial crisis, the French President underlined that the sector’s businesses had not forgotten where they came from, and knew which country to turn to for protection in the storm. The rescue of the French, Belgian and Luxembourger bank Dexia involved complex financial engineering. But apart from Natixis, French banks were relatively spared by the crisis. Given the excesses of finance in the English-speaking world, standing out as French or European became a symbol of common sense and prudent management once more.

Later, when the euro came under attack and the solidity of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) was in the balance, French banks stood firm, reaffirming certain basic truths in the face of bias promoted by the English-speaking press. France’s finance ministers did their bit, participating in investor roadshows on the main financial centres, to highlight the attractiveness of the Paris centre and the solidity of the euro.

Ambassadors, France’s travelling salesmen

In that context, embassies have an important role to play. They can contribute to sharing objective information and debunking certain clichés or false perceptions. Is it known, for example, that hourly productivity of workers in France is higher than that in Germany, and that the number of strike days per member of the economically active population is lower than that of Canada ? France is the fifth-largest recipient of foreign direct investment worldwide, and the leading destination in Europe for that investment when it comes to industry. France is the eurozone’s leading financial centre. With its research tax credit, France offers the best conditions for the creation of research and development laboratories.

With their access to political and economic decision-makers, our ambassadors can act as advocates for France’s reputation, presenting arguments to encourage foreign investments in the country and giving a helping hand to our exports. They can also act as lobbyists to obtain the lifting of regulatory measures that are a barrier to trade and limit the market access of our goods and services.

Welcoming businesses to a legendary venue

There is another role that ambassadors delight in playing : that of hosting prestigious events, receptions and banquets in the setting of the embassy and its residence. France’s residences abroad are often real jewels of architecture, furnished tastefully and situated in the best neighbourhoods.

L’ambassade de France en Corée du Sud

The embassy in Seoul was built by an architect famous in Korea, Kim Jung-up, a disciple of Le Corbusier. In a city that has few historic buildings, it is one of the most beautiful examples of architectural heritage. Being invited to the French residence means visiting a legendary venue. Its prestige reflects upon the business that associates its name with that setting. French residencies are thus a tool to support our economic diplomacy.

The bankers’ dinner

For example, there is a French banking group, with a strong presence in Asia, which has taken to inviting its local customers and partners to the setting of the French residences in Tokyo, Hong Kong or Seoul. It would be wrong to believe that those gala dinners are simply opportunities to chat : business is also discussed, and the volume of business generated during those discussions is worth millions of euros.

During a dinner in Tokyo, for example, the French bank’s local partner pledged to purchase a considerable quantity of the bank’s bonds, providing it with a great deal of liquidity, at a time when the financial crisis threatened to dry up the financing of our economy. Several billion euros injected into the local French economy means that investments are covered, liquidity facilities are granted, and therefore that jobs are created and maintained. So yes, bankers’ dinners, where they support such goals, are well worth hosting at French residences !

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