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Askar Sydykov: We have a lot to learn from our French colleagues

June 10, 2023

Executive Director of the International Business Council Askar Sydykov made a business trip to France from May 22 to May 26, 2023. Among more than 300 applicants, he was selected to participate in the Future Leaders Invitation Program (PIPA) of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France.

Every year, the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs invites some 75 promising young leaders from around the world to France under the Future Leaders Invitation Program. PIPA gives these future leaders from the political world and civil society the opportunity to spend time in France to hold high-level meetings relating to their activities.

The participants are young leaders (aged 25 to 45) from around the world at the start of their careers who want to learn more about France and are likely to hold influential positions in their countries, whether in relation to France or not. They can be elected representatives, political leaders, senior civil servants, representatives from the economic arena, academics or members of civil society.

The program seeks to provide these future leaders with an in-depth knowledge of France, based on high-level professional contacts relating to their activities and areas of interest. It also aims to create special ties with France.

Based on themes suggested by each participant (institutions, political life, international relations, economic and social issues, etc.), a tailored program of study and meetings is organized. This was a week-long program comprising diverse meetings and field visits, both in Paris and beyond.

“The visit was very fruitful and eventful. During the week, I visited well-known companies and organizations, hold bilateral meetings with their management and employees. I also met with many prominent parliamentarians,” said the IBC head Askar Sydykov.

These were high-level government meetings (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Economy and others), in parliament, leading companies, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, business associations and the Economic, Social and Environmental Council of France.

Investment opportunities

Askar Sydykov and representatives of the Ministry of Economy, Finance, Industrial and Digital Sovereignty of France discussed the possibility of providing sovereign financing to countries like Kyrgyzstan for infrastructure or other investment projects.

With Marc Gerard, Vice President of EDF (Electricite de France) International for Europe & Central Asia, and Laurent Pagadon, Senior Developer at EDF for Europe & Central Asia, the IBC head discussed investment opportunities in the energy sector of Kyrgyzstan. EDF, the largest energy company in France and one of the world's leading companies, is already engaged in the modernization of the Uch-Korgon HPP and is interested in investing in the Kambarata HPP-1 project.

“This will be the largest energy project in the history of our country, and it is very important that EDF International is interested in its implementation. This company already has a presence in the Central Asian region — in Uzbekistan in the TPP project on the Syrdarya river. For our part, we will try to ensure maximum transparency and efficiency in attracting investors to this project,” Sydykov said.

Meetings with parliamentarians

Meetings with deputies of the French Parliament — the Senate (Upper Chamber) and the National Assembly (Lower Chamber) were significant.

At the National Assembly, the IBC head and Nathalie Serre, head of the France – Central Asia parliamentary friendship group, exchanged views on bilateral international and economic relations and prospects for cooperation between the two countries.

“I met with experienced and influential parliamentarians who not only work in the Senate, but are also represented at many international venues. These were senators Valirie Boyer, Andre Reichardt and Claude Kern. It is very important for our country to maintain cooperation and contacts with such parliamentarians, since they have influence not only in France, but also in the European Union, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the OECD and other multilateral organizations,” said Askar Sydykov.

Meeting colleagues

The meetings with French colleagues, representatives of business associations of various levels were very informative.

“First of all, these were MEDEF (French International Business Movement) and Business France, the organization that performs functions similar to our National Investment Agency. It was interesting to learn that each of them has its own task”, said Askar Sydykov.

For example, Business France has sales representatives in more than 70 countries, more than 800 people abroad plus domestically. They work in two main areas - they attract investments to France and carry out trade missions abroad, that is, they promote exports. Business France is a government organization, and it effectively performs its functions.

The French Chamber of Commerce and Industry is also financed from the state budget, more than 550 million euros a year are allocated for it, according to Alexandre Missoffe, Deputy Director of the Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“To receive this budget, they have to reach certain indicators. The CCI conducts state registration for SME entrepreneurs, provides a large list of services that are somewhat similar to social services. They also carry out motivational events for disadvantaged regions,” said Sydykov.

It was interesting to learn that the Chamber of Commerce and Industry has its own regional branches in every department of the country, including the Paris department. Each chamber monitors the situation with the business environment in its district, observes who needs help, where it is necessary to motivate people to entrepreneurship in order to increase employment and open new markets.

The CCI conducts consultations for small and medium-sized businesses, explain government programs, strategies, activities, and funding opportunities. The CCI also helps the elderly before retirement to sell their business so that it does not stop.

MEDEF, the largest business association

“MEDEF is a business association of France, uniting big business, the largest taxpayers. Something similar to our organization,” the IBC head said.

MEDEF International was created three years ago, and every year the number of participants grows by 5 percent. According to Géraldine Lemble, Deputy Managing Director, and Julien Beccafichi, Head of the Eurasia branch, the organization now has 173,000 members, businesses across the country. Over the past year, they held 300 various events, missions, and even during the COVID period they did not stop their activities and organized 175 webinars.

If necessary, they open overseas offices as investment agencies. They have working groups or commissions on sectors, for example, on digitalization, on hydrogen, on the agro-industrial complex, on smart cities. These Task Forces can create trade missions of interest and send them to the appropriate countries.

Protecting small and medium enterprises

Kyrgyzstan is also interested in the experience of the Confederation of Small and Medium Enterprises of France (CPME), which protects the interests of various sectors, including trade, services, crafts.

According to Director of Economic, Legal and Tax Affairs of the Confederation Lionel Vignaud and Director of European and International Affairs Beatrice Brisson, the confederation unites more than 240 thousand members across the country, employing more than 4 million people, that is, so many jobs are being created. The confederation also coordinates the work of more than 100 professional federations (industry associations).

“As it turned out, CPME has a relatively small staff, but they manage to organize trade missions abroad for SMEs. They are part of a tripartite dialogue that includes employers, unions and the government. And they constantly promote the laws necessary for business,” said Sydykov.

And even if somewhere there is not enough expertise (of course, it is difficult to work with SMEs), the confederation itself manages to analyze, conduct expertise and successfully promote the interests of its members on the platform of the French government and the European Union.

Ecology, an important area of the economy

It was very useful to get acquainted with the experience of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE) of France. According to council’s consultant Gaetan Metzger, this organization is like a public parliament, a public platform that consists of 175 members appointed by the president. The council includes business, trade union associations, and expert organizations.

Representatives of various groups of society, including the private sector, in these three areas (economy, social issues and ecology) together with CESE analyze issues, draw up a conclusion on them, and then submit them to relevant organizations including the government, the president, parliament and, if necessary, to the public.

“This is a good analytical platform for public-private dialogue and for a dialogue between civil society and the state,” the IBC head concluded.

New contacts established

During the visit, contacts were established with important organizations and experts in the field of trade and investment promotion, as well as in other areas of bilateral and multilateral cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and France. Thanks to such meetings and negotiations, our country can achieve significant progress in the European Union and in the international arena.

Askar Sydykov did his best to tell representatives of the legislative and executive branches of government, the academic community and the business community of France about Kyrgyzstan in as much detail as possible, to familiarize them with the prospects for cooperation, find out their areas of interest and plan further steps in bilateral and multilateral cooperation.

“For our part, we will try to maintain a dialogue with these prominent representatives of France, develop cooperation in various areas, and also establish a similar partnership with other developed and developing countries to promote the interests of Kyrgyzstan and the Central Asian region,” the IBC head concluded.