Ipek Cem interviews Anne-Marie Idrac, the French Minister for Foreign Trade, one of the most prominent female politicians and managers of Europe today.
Ipek Cem: My guest today is Anne-Marie Idrac. She’s the French State Minister of Foreign Trade. Welcome to “Global Leaders”.
Anne-Marie Idrac: Thank you.
Ipek Cem: You are currently on a state visit to Turkey. And the purpose of the visit is to increase commercial relations and economic relations between Turkey and France, whereas the French-Turkish relationship has suffered a bit because of the EU and because of some of President Sarkozy’s remarks. How did you find your reception in Turkey?
Anne-Marie Idrac: The reception was very warm and friendly. And operational and effective as well. Coming to figures, it’s important to know that the trade relation is very important. It’s around ten billion Euros and it’s very dynamic. Since the beginning of this year, the rate of growth for this trade relation has been about 20% inspite of the economic background. So it is very dynamic for trade and also very dynamic for investment. Maybe you know that France is the second largest investor in Turkey. And that we have many companies around, lets say, 300 of them. Employing not less than 70,000 Turkish people on your territory. And what is very interesting for me is to hear these French companies saying that they want to develop their investment and to attract new colleagues for France to develop activity in your country.
Ipek Cem: In 2008, the figure I read was about the projection was fifteen billion euros of trade. Is this still on target?
Anne-Marie Idrac: Yes, it is a target. I propose that to my colleague, Mr. Tüzmen. We said, “Well, let’s consider ten billion as a good figure” the last time we could check trade. And it’s not difficult. I think it’s not really difficult to get fifteen billion on both sides. One interesting point is to note that it is quite balanced. As a matter of fact it is a little more in favor of French exportation. But this is positive balance for us and this little deficit for Turkey is re-balancing at the moment. And it is not so often that you h such both way interesting trade relation.
Ipek Cem: It’s an incentive to continue.
Anne-Marie Idrac: Yes, it is exactly an incentive to continue.
Ipek Cem: What are some of the major areas of trade between the two countries? And do you see any trends developing, some changes in these areas?
Anne-Marie Idrac: Of course French companies are very interested by infrastructure and transport as a whole. Building the famous tunnel under the Bosphorus or aircrafts, trains, metros like the metro of Istanbul which was built by Alstom, the French company. So this general field is very important. Energy, as well. And more and more we can see SMEs and diversified activities when we talk about SMEs. Another important point we want to develop together is innovation. And for example it would be interesting to have more links between clusters or innovative areas.
Ipek Cem: Which segments, which sectors for innovation are you looking at?
Anne-Marie Idrac: One good example is renewable energy. Biomass, solar energy in relation with union and a project of reducing the pollution around the Mediteranean and to develop solar plant in which I’m sure that Turkey can take quite a place.
Ipek Cem: Controversial issue is the building of a nuclear plant in Turkey and the French company was also in the bidding process. What’s your outlook on that?
Anne-Marie Idrac: We think that our experts could be in contact because as we all know this type of project is a long time project and means to have long discussions and deep discussions. We are dispositioned for the Turkish authorities if we want to discuss over that. But as a matter of fact, we didn’t discuss about that during my stay in Ankara or in Istanbul.
Ipek Cem: While the numbers of course mean a lot and clearly there is long standing relations between the two countries as stemming many many years, in the eye of the Turkish public this negative outlook of the French presidency on Turkey’s accession to the EU as a full member is still an important block. Because we know trade and economic relations and political relations kind of go hand in hand and one helps and the other sometimes obstructs and vice versa or they help each other. What is your outlook? Has there been, or do you anticipate a change in the French stance?
Anne-Marie Idrac: You know, during our EU presidency which is ending at the end of this year, President Nicolas Sarkozy had clearly said that he wanted to be objective and positive. Technically the negotiations have to open what is called two new chapters, one is about financial issues and the other one is about media. And we work quite hard at the level of French Presidency of the Union. You know that how this opening of the chapters and I hope it would be possible in meetings will which take place before the end of the year, December as matter of a fact.
Ipek Cem: So you feel that the continuation of the opening of the chapters is an indication that Turkey still has the chance.
Anne-Marie Idrac: Yes it is a way. It is a way and everybody knows that these discussions are quite long.
Ipek Cem: Yes.
Anne-Marie Idrac: And the way is important. And the way of reform is important for Turkey as well.
Ipek Cem: You took the helm of the Foreign Trade Ministry, you were a minister before as well, in March of 2008. And since then, we saw the first signs but the global economic crises has really deepened beyond anybody’s expectations and still it’s a bullet in everbody’s heart. There is the 700 billion bailout plan. We see that no country can be away from another country, we are troubled by the same problems. How do you evaluate the US bailout plan, the situation in Europe? Do you feel enough is being done? Do you have fears?
Anne-Marie Idrac: What is important is that while the problems are global and interconnected as you see, the answers must be. And what Europe was in advance to see and what the President Sarkozy was very active at to put on the table is the idea of global coordinated answers. Shortterm answers in order to avoid that the financial crisis gets to an economic general crisis for everybody. And seconal so global answers to build a new and more regulated financial architecture. It’s interesting that the Prime Minister Erdogan and President Sarkozy met three times during the last month. And especially once at the G-20 meeting. And what I understood is that they had common views on this way to coordinate the answers and to coordinate a new building of global architecture. It will be difficult for everybody. It will be difficult for everybody. In our country, in France as an older country even if the French financial system is more solid than others, we feel that unfortunately it will be difficult for sectors like automative and construction for example. We hope that at the European level it will be possible to have a coordinated plans. Not the same plan for everybody, because the budget situation is not the same, the sectorial industry attacked by the crisis is not the same, but to coordinate the actions. And that’s another work for French presidency.
Ipek Cem: What are some of the measures taken in France to combat this issue?
Anne-Marie Idrac: We had two level of measures: On the first hand, financial measures in order to put liquidity in the financial system to avoid the so-called credit crunch for households, and of companies, SMEs especially. One large part of this liquidity was in destination of SMEs precisely. And on the other hand, we have more economical reasons which we try to coordinate with other European countries. Some have already been decided especially for the innovation in automative sector for green cars. Altough will be anounced when the coordination of other countries will be effective.
Ipek Cem: When we look at France and some of the other works that you’ve done, you’ve been very active in Paris with the subway system, you’ve been very active with the railways, you’ve managed these very complex, very large enterprises. And you also had to take a look with some environmental objectives during your ten year as the Transport Minister. How do you see Europe’s and in particular France’s position visavis environmental goals?
Anne-Marie Idrac: One of the priority of our policy clearly is the environment. As a matter of fact the three priorities for French Presidency of Union, there was the question of climate change and on internal policy it was decided that the parliament on there’s [perceive] my colleague Minister of Environment called Jean-Louis Borloo, it was decided several types of measures, for example special help for green cars as I said, also help for isolation of building and houses. And help for saving the energy. So it is really the core of our policy and the national domestic, European and even global level. Because don’t forget that we all are preparing for the post Kyoto negotiations when we take place after 2012.
Ipek Cem: We know that in 2009 and I think you’ve mentioned it in one of your speeches, it will be the “Turkey Year” in France. What are some of the activities planned? How would this impact your area commercial relations? What are some of your expectations?
Anne-Marie Idrac: This year, it will take place at the second semester of 2009 as you say. And it is a very very interesting opportunity to have Turkey best known by French people. There will be cultural and economic events. Not even in Paris but also in several provinces. Not just with large companies but also with SMEs, museums and all types of possibility to touch the French opinion and French sensibility. It is interesting to know that the leader, the organizer of this event is Henri de Castries, the CEO of AXA, the big insurance company and a close friend of President Sarkozy. And I hope that it will be possible to have large part of economic events, already I saw some bits of programs which I’m sure will be very interesting.
Ipek Cem: When we look at commercial relations we often recognize the large companies. But also I know with you, for example you brought some SMEs, and SMEs are always a good way to cooperate. How do you see this SME-large company balance going forward visavis Turkish-French commercial relations?
Anne-Marie Idrac: Of course, the most well known and the larger part of the markets are coming from big companies. But I think there is a link between big companies and for example small suppliers, for example. And also that it’s important to stimulate the SMEs in both ways and partnerships between SMEs. As an example we’ve decided, our Agency for Development called AFD, delivered a special loan in order to stimulate these meetings and this developing of SMEs, the French SMEs in Turkey and partnership between two types of SMEs. It is very important for new vision. It is very important for diversification of the trade. And it is very interesting on the human point of view. When you see these people dealing together, really, it is very very pleasant.
Ipek Cem: The election of Barack Obama as the President of the United States, it’s viewed that it will have many repercussions political and economic. And also there is the economic crisis which has deepened immensely. Now we see that the transition they are trying to make it as smooth as possible with the Bush presidency. How do you think it will impact trans-atlantic relations? Politically and economically?
Anne-Marie Idrac: First of all, of course the election of President Obama was a symbol of renewal and youth and a sort of political symbolic revolution. And everybody in the world feels like that. I spend 2/3 of my time out of France and I feel that in every country.
Ipek Cem: Yes.
Anne-Marie Idrac: Nevertheless of course he will be the President of the Americans. It is interesting to see that there was not so much time to set up a team as he did this morning and to speak very clearly about the automotive industry, for example. Because nobody can be comfortable with the United States in a bad economical situation. Because we all are, by the way or not, depending on the US economy, US market which is one of the most important importer and exporter for industry, for agriculture. And so we have many reasons to be confident, even if it is a little long to wait until the end of February to have him definitely in that post.
Ipek Cem: You mentioned you spend about 2/3 of your time travelling and I was looking over the web, looking at all the different countries you’ve visited recently like Nigeria, India, you know and many others...
Anne-Marie Idrac: China, Japan, Morocco, Lebanon, Georgia.
Ipek Cem: Yes, very critical country at this point. I wanted to find out, all countries are looking for more investment and more trade and they are all trying to line up their regulations and their laws and their business mean for this reason. When you look at Turkey, visavis some of these other developing economies; Turkey is a large market. How does Turkey fare in your opinion?
Anne-Marie Idrac: First it is important never to forget the geographical and demographic situation of Turkey. Coming to European countries, France in particular, it is easier to discuss, to understand, to invest, to travel for Turkey, than well, for China. You know the level of our trade around ten billion as we said, is more important than the trade both with Japan or Canada. The point of proximity is important, not only in geography, but also in mind, in culture. And the fact that there have been years of negotiations between Turkey and the European Union. It is also very interesting and positive to have the same type of reforms, the same type of thinking and more and more close judicial and administrative system. So it’s difficult to have a rank but well, Turkey is in a good rank.
Ipek Cem: In Turkey you look very favourably at women in high political pose who have maybe had more difficulties getting there than men. How has your journey been? Has it been difficult to be a woman and to be in the public eye?
Anne-Marie Idrac: You know my own journey since forty years, it is not very easy. It is not very easy. When in France, of course we are lucky coming to the laws and this type of thing. And I feel personal responsibility for direction of women especially young women who have sometimes question of equality and of course also the difficulty be at the same time a mother and a business or working woman. So I encourage this type of reform as well.
Ipek Cem: And what are some of your priorities going forward for your ministry?
Anne-Marie Idrac: My priority is to develop export by SMEs. Because it’s not very useful to “help” big companies only. They have all type of staff and possibilites. I gave an objective which is to have ten thousand more SMEs exporting from France. And I know that it will be important to have these companies more and more innovative. So more SMEs, and more innovative SMEs in order to export.
Ipek Cem: The European Union countries are going through a recession after a longer period of well-being. And so is France is on the verge or is going through a recession. What are some of the measures taken in the EU to combat this ongoing situation? It seems like it is not going to end quickly.
Anne-Marie Idrac: First of all, as I see, it was very very important to coordinate the financial priorities. In order to stop the lack of confidence which was terrible. You know, because it was such lack of confidence between bank that they didn’t lend to each others. And so that was the first thing. As a second, is for each countries to coordinate what is better for itself. In France, we decided not to stop the reforms. You know that Nicolas Sarkozy was elected, was an important program for reform, liberalization and innovation in all the sectors. And we say that after the crisis we will be better, if we have go on with this program of reform.
Ipek Cem: On that note I’d like to thank you very much for giving us the time.
Anne-Marie Idrac: Thank you.
This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, NTV networks and Ipek Cem cannot vouch for its accuracy.