Hervé de Charette, vice-president of the French National Assembly and President of the Franco-Arab Chamber of Commerce (CCFA) has recently paid a visit to Tunisia during which he discussed with various officials and representatives of business community , development opportunities of economic partnership between France and Tunisia in particular and the Arab world in general. Also on the agenda the impact of the international financial crisis on these relationships. He graciously granted us the following interview:
–You are the President of the Franco-Arab Chamber of Commerce, and it’s one of your first visits in that capacity in the Arab world. In what context do you see the visit in Tunisia?
-I come here as president of Franco-Arab Chamber of Commerce which is the first mixed chamber created in parallel with the British, Belgians, Germans, Spanish and others. Our chamber was established in 1970 in the wake of what has been called the Arab policy of France initiated by General De Gaulle. The idea was to work on the development of Franco-Arab trade. The chamber of commerce, of course, has an economic vocation, though, and as you know, the relationships of France with the Arab world are not only economic but also political and cultural. A civilization that shares the same values is something extremely important.
The Chamber of Commerce is equal in its structure and its nature. It combines equal representatives of the Arab economy and those of the French economy. Therefore, our institutions include a parity structure and our board includes 22 representatives of 22 member countries of the Arab League; these are representatives ofchambers of commerce or similar bodies. Our partner in Tunisia is Utica (Tunisian Union of Industry and Trade and Crafts).whose representative is Mohammed Sahraoui, a member of Utica Executive Bureau . At the management level, the President is a native and the Secretary General is from the Arab world. For now it is a Saudi. A Tunisian, Baccar Touzani was holding this position for a long time. Our mission is to develop economic relations between our countries. We worked all day around the theme of developing and strengthening our economic relations. There are many institutions that are working here in the same field such as the Tunisian-French Chamber which is very competent, very efficient and remarkable, it is one of three organizations that are most involved in strengthening the French economic presence abroad. We also work in partnership with the Medef, Ubi France and other organizations. I think we can have a particular added-value, because we are directly involved in economy.
-What is the impact of financial crisis on relations between the Arab world and your country?
-The financial crisis has relatively little effect on countries such as Tunisia, I was a few days ago in Lebanon. By the same token, we may say that in these countries, a very prudent financial management at financial institutions and government instigation, makes banks sheltered from risk related to subprime and derivatives. That is not, unfortunately, the case in the Gulf where the abundance of funds and liquidity led naturally to put money into financial channels that triggered the financial crisis. The impact of this financial crisis can not be seen at the level of Franco-Arab relations, not at all. However, we are facing the same problems. That is to say that this financial crisis turns into an economic one, and then unfortunately, Tunisia, like France, is affected.
It is affected through the automotive industry, or rather the car subcontractors working in Tunisia for European companies as well as through the textile and clothing sector where there are many companies which came to settle in Tunisia and undergo the consequences of the economic crisis and consumption slowdown in Europe. So, in fact, there are these problems we have and that we share together. I think the answer to your question is that we have to stick together, because either we will come out together or we all suffer together.
-It was said that your visit is primarily aiming at promoting relations with regard to mega projects in construction
-If you want, we can summarize the situation this way. I am here at the invitation of Hédi Djilani, President of Utica, because the Franco-Arab Chamber of Commerce is a joint chamber and we have very close relations with Utica. We worked today with officials of the Union and Hédi Djilani in particular. And we have taken the first initiative in the field of major projects. With the idea that these large projects, which are probably slowed by the crisis, will eventually be back on the track and, on that day, together, we will be ready.
-Are you are sure that French companies are mostly involved in these projects?
-Not at all. I am not sure of anything. For now, the Tunisian complaints are that the major French companies in the construction industry are not sufficiently present in Tunisia. It is a message that I view as positive, because it means that there is work abroad, that there are ideas and there are things we can do together. When I will back in Paris, I will meet the leaders of major French construction companies and I will convey this message with many details. And we will be involved in exchanges and contacts which I hope will impel the interests of France and Tunisia.