Fabrice Le Saché (Medef): “We must develop economic Francophonie”

Fabrice Le Saché (Medef): “We must develop economic Francophonie”
Written by on100dayloans

Fabrice Le Saché is vice-president and spokesperson for Medef. French-speaking employers meet on March 28 and 29 in Tunis.

What is the ambition of the new alliance that employers’ organizations will launch this week in Tunisia?

The idea of ​​giving life to this economic Francophonie has germinated over the past two years. In 2020, Senegalese President Macky Sall, invited to the Rencontre des entrepreneurs de France (REF), noted that the potential of our common language, French, was not used enough to increase our exchanges. We invited 500 French-speaking bosses to Longchamp the following year. At the end of two days of discussions, the French-speaking employers’ organizations signed a declaration to express their desire to meet more regularly and establish a permanent structure. There was an awareness of the weight of the Francophone economic space. According to the International Organization of La Francophonie, this area represents 14% of the world’s population, 16% of GDP, nearly 14% of mining and energy resources, and 20% of trade in goods. In a context of extreme heterogeneity of French-speaking economies, how to create a cross-platform to generate more economic flows? This is the ambition of the 27 founding employers’ organizations gathered in Tunis to establish a permanent organization that coordinates our actions in the French-speaking world.

Who is to chair this alliance?

For the first term, we have proposed the candidacy of the president of Medef, Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux. The president will be surrounded by an executive committee including regional vice-presidencies. More concretely, the Tunis summit will enable us to launch our work on seven subjects: infrastructure and major projects, free movement of goods, services and people, ecological transition and CSR, finance, banking and capital, investment facilitation, training of labor, digital.

Isn’t the language of business rather English, even for French groups?

French is the third business language worldwide. It is a strategic and economic asset, an immaterial good. It should not be a language suffered but useful for attracting investments, partners, developing trade, creating jobs, finding customers…

What can we expect from this alliance?

We are already seeking to respond to concrete concerns such as mapping the rules in force in the field of energy to define possible standard contracts, exploring charter shipping lines between French-speaking countries, setting up a business visa for French-speaking entrepreneurs that will then have to be negotiated with the public authorities of our countries. Mauritius has also proposed a program for energy efficiency, Quebec a mutual recognition system for vocational training. There are more than twenty concrete lines of work on the horizon of six months. We will present the first results in Abidjan in October, during our 2and annual forum.

What are the most dynamic areas for business in the French-speaking world?

Europe remains a priority market and we are looking at opportunities in Asia, North Africa and West Africa. These are very competitive markets where we have to showcase our expertise, our comparative advantages, our financing tools. Maintaining the drafting of calls for tenders in French is an obvious common advantage. For this, French must regain influence in organizations such as the European Union, the IMF and the World Bank.

“It is total nonsense to cut off the right to produce minerals. This forces France to buy these products abroad, especially in China, while they are sometimes extracted under much worse social and environmental conditions.

France has geological maps of African subsoils that it sells to the Chinese…

France has lost a good part of its extractive capacity, even if there are still groups like Areva and Eramet. Our decarbonization regulations have greatly reduced our room for manoeuvre. The Montagne d’or gold mining project in Guyana is struggling to see the light of day, the justice system has canceled the operating permit for a tungsten mine in Ariège. This forces France to buy these products abroad, especially in China, when they are sometimes extracted under much worse social and environmental conditions. It is total nonsense to cut off the right to produce these minerals. There is a major issue of sovereignty in terms of access to rare metals, as revealed by the recent publication of the Varin report. This report recommends that the government secure its raw material needs for the battery and wind turbine industries. The Medef will soon launch a white paper on the subject.

Isn’t it counterproductive that the European Commission is reluctant to finance gas complexes in Africa, at a time when Russian supplies are being reduced?

European constraints make it difficult to invest in gas liquefaction complexes abroad. Europe is crossed by an “anti-fossil energy” ideology dictated by the influence of opinion movements and by a straitjacket of compliance rules that cut us off from emerging markets. The EU and the French Development Agency (AFD) are reluctant to finance these energies in their cooperation programme. Look at Germany: the energy transition translates into higher CO emissions2! The expected reduction in Russian gas deliveries, which is costing Europe 400 million euros a day, is not going to help matters. We can expect our neighbor to be forced to develop an alternative source like coal. Fortunately, we managed to have nuclear integrated into the European taxonomy. Both France and Belgium secure their nuclear power plants. About 200,000 people work in the nuclear sector in France, many of them in start-ups. Mini-nuclear power plants are also a solution for the future. We have expertise in their construction and the reprocessing of waste. It can even become an export market, provided that the political and legal environment is respected.

What are the sectors where France has comparative advantages?

There is agro-industry, pharmaceuticals, fashion and luxury with Kering, L’Oréal, Chanel, Hermès, LVMH, the French “Gafam” in the sector. The cultural and creative industries are doing well. Aeronautics is beginning to recover with the resumption of air traffic. Finally, there is the civil-military industry with groups like Dassault, Airbus and ATR. The automobile remains a strategic sector, but France has gone from producing 2 million vehicles per year to less than one million in twenty years. Finally, we must invest in sectors of the future such as hydrogen.

Is the public support given to French exports appropriate?

Within the framework of the presidential election, the Medef makes proposals for the support of foreign trade. We question the effectiveness of development aid as designed by AFD, whose practices are still rooted in the 1970s. It is frustrating to see the lack of cooperation between AFD and the private sector. Untied aid does not benefit our companies enough and too often benefits our competitors, including Chinese companies. AFD credit lines allocated to French water equipment manufacturers have been divided by 10 in ten years. France nevertheless deploys 6 billion euros per year of aid in Africa. For what result? Stronger CSR clauses must urgently be included in tenders for French and European funding. We would also prefer a better allocation of these resources, and that they be used to create investment funds for water, education, agriculture, energy or infrastructure. Management companies have teams capable of identifying projects, carrying them out and mobilizing additional private capital, creating a virtuous leverage of public money. Wouldn’t our image be substantially different if companies and investment funds were given greater prominence when the French head of state travels to the continent?

An internationally oriented boss

Vice-President and spokesperson for Medef, Fabrice Le Saché is the founding president of Aera, an independent supplier and trader of environmental certificates in Africa. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of Medef International and Chairman of the SME & Entrepreneurship Commission of Business Europe, the largest employers’ union in Europe.

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