ASTANA – France has become one of Kazakhstan’s main trading partners and closest partners in Europe over the past two decades.
Diplomatic relations between Kazakhstan and France were established on Jan. 25, 1992, only three weeks after Kazakhstan declared its independence on Dec. 16, 1991. The French Embassy in Kazakhstan was opened in March 1992, and the Embassy of Kazakhstan in France opened in July 1993.
Five times larger than the territory of France, with a population of 17 million people, Kazakhstan is the main trading partner of France and the European Union in the region.
More than 100 French–owned companies are currently registered in Kazakhstan. Business ties are fostered by the Kazakh-French Business Council and the Joint Commission for Economic Cooperation.
A French delegation of 70 senior executives from 50 companies, government agencies and professional associations, including 20 companies that were starting to operate in Kazakhstan, visited Astana to participate in a Business Council in February 2012.
The Kazakh-French political dialogue has been ongoing. Kazakhstan and France have reached a high level of understanding and share common views on key international problems.
In October 2009, then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid an official visit to Kazakhstan. It was the second time a French head of state had visited the country. French President Francois Mitterrand paid an official visit in 1993. Sarkozy signed a package of major intergovernmental agreements and business contracts worth more than 4 billion euros ($5.43 billion).
Current French President Francois Hollande has received a personal invitation from President Nursultan Nazarbayev to visit Kazakhstan this year.
“We are waiting for the exact dates of the visit. It will be a major event of the year, and will give a decisive impetus to bilateral projects,” France’s Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Jean-Charles Berthonnet, told The Astana Times.
President Nazarbayev has paid official visits to France 10 times since taking office: in 1992, 1994, twice in 1995, 1997, 2003, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012. He successfully established and maintained close ties with a succession of French leaders and concluded many agreements with them.
In 2011, President Nazarbayev and then-French President Sarkozy signed a joint declaration to boost bilateral cooperation in areas of advanced technology, especially high-tech products made of titanium for use in the European Airbus models.
On Nov. 21, 2012, during President Nazarbayev’s most recent visit to France, Astana won the right to host EXPO 2017 under the theme of future energy after a vote by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) in Paris.
The choice of Astana to host EXPO “is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the expertise of our large and smaller companies,” Ambassador Berthonnet said.
He said French companies were already involved in constructing the new LRT urban mass transit tram system to serve the estimated five million visitors expected to attend the exhibition.
The prime ministers of both countries also hold regular meetings. President Nazarbayev’s chief of staff, Karim Massimov, was one of the first high-ranking representatives of other nations to officially meet with current French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault after he took office on May 15, 2012.
The foreign ministers of both countries also cooperate closely to improve relations. Under the Strategic Partnership Agreement, the deputy foreign ministers of both countries held consultations in Paris in June 2011 and in September 2012 and ending the following day in Astana.
Current French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is expected to visit Astana on March 1, 2013. The Joint Commission for Economic Cooperation will hold its next meeting in Paris on March 7, 2013. French Foreign Trade Minister Nicole Brick and Kazakhstan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and New Technologies Asset Issekeshev are expected to lead the delegations.
Kazakhstan and France signed their Strategic Partnership Agreement in June 2008 and set up the Franco-Kazakh Presidential Commission in 2010. The two governments are working actively to increase industrial cooperation in the key sectors of aviation, aerospace, railway industry, energy sector, nuclear energy, oil and gas, mining, banking and agriculture.
“We are implementing 27 major joint projects. Trade between the two countries has reached an annual volume of $6 billion. I believe that our cooperation in the economic, political, humanitarian and educational fields will continue for the benefit of both countries,” President Nazarbayev said during his visit to France in November 2012.
Major French energy companies including Total, Areva and GDF-SUEZ operate in Kazakhstan, mining oil, gas, uranium, rare ores and rare earth metals. France provides advanced technological tools and know-how to Kazakhstan’s industrialization programme. A new Franco-Kazakh technology transfer centre has been created. Other major French industrial corporations such as Alstom, Eurocopter and EADS Astrium have signed contracts to provide technology and equipment. They also train Kazakh workers and provide advanced technology to the Central Asian nation.
By the end of 2011, France and Kazakhstan had restored their annual trade to its level before the 2008-9 global financial and economic crises. Bilateral trade reached $6.1 billion in 2011, including $5.41 billion in exports from Kazakhstan and $687 million in imports into the country. This marked a 20 percent increase in trade compared to 2010. In the first eight months of 2012, bilateral trade amounted to $4.9 billion, a 32.4 percent increase on the same period in 2011.
Kazakhstan’s main exports to France are oil, metals and chemicals. The country imports industrial equipment, medicines, cosmetics, cars, food, aircraft and space vehicles.
Since 1994, France’s foreign direct investment (FDI) in Kazakhstan has exceeded $9 billion.
Total is involved in developing the Kashagan super oil field in the North Caspian Sea which it has coordinated since 2008. French investors are interested in the Eskene-Kuryk pipeline project. On Oct. 6, 2009, the KazMunayGas (KMG) National Oil Company, Total and Gaz de France-Suez signed an agreement to develop the Khvalynskoye gas field.
The Kazatomprom National Atomic Company and the French Areva group have created the KATCO Joint Venture to mine uranium deposits. Areva will extract up to 4,000 tons of uranium per year in exchange for providing the technology to manufacture nuclear fuel assemblies and to construct a new facility to operate them at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant. The investment will come to $180 million and the project is expected to be fully operational by 2016.
A French industrial delegation led by Minister of Industry, Energy and Digital Economy Eric Besson visited Kazakhstan in November 2011 and participated in the first meeting of the Managing Committee of the Kazakh-French Laboratory for Rare Metals (FreKaReL). The UKAD Joint Venture plant was opened on Sept. 19, 2011.
French companies have opened dairy and cement plants in southern Kazakhstan. The Chimpharm is manufacturing the drug Essentiale. French companies have also financed new silicon metal production plants in Ust-Kamenogorsk and Astana.
On June 21, 2010, Alstom of France, Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (Kazakhstan State Railways) and Transmashholding of Russia signed an agreement to build a new plant to assemble electric locomotives in Astana. It opened on Dec. 4, 2012.
On July 4, 2011, Alstom began work on Astana’s new light-rail tram system.
In the aerospace field, work began on July 3, 2010 on the new Galam joint venture complex to assemble and test spacecraft complex built in participation with EADS-Astrium.
EADS-Eurocopter has built a new helicopter assembly factory in Astana through the Eurocopter Kazakhstan Engineering Joint Venture. In November 2011, the first batch of helicopters was delivered from France. In June 2012, the plant was completed.
In September 2011, the work on the new Thales Kazakhstan Engineering Joint Venture to assemble portable radios for Kazakhstan’s Defence Ministry started to build its new factory in Almaty.
In July 2012, a large delegation headed by French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Kazakhstan. Le Drian and Kazakhstan Defence Minister Adilbek Dzhaksybekov discussed the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan and their transit through Kazakhstan.
On Dec. 25, 2012, President Nazarbayev participated in the launch of a new Astana solar plant by Kazatomprom working with the Atomic Energy Commission and French alternative energy companies. The factory manufactures photovoltaic modules (solar panels) to convert solar energy into electricity. It will also manufacture diesel generators for use in hybrid systems with solar and wind power generators.
The Alliance Française cultural and educational agency operates in Almaty, Astana, Shymkent, Karaganda and Aktobe. Currently 33 Kazakh students are studying in France under the Bolashak programme. Since 2010, Kazakh scientists have trained at the universities of Paris and Strasbourg. About 100 Kazakh students studied in France under various programmes during the academic year of 2011-2012.
In June 2012, the third Kazakh-French forum of higher education took place in Paris. The Kazakh-French industrial park was set up in Astana with the support of Nazarbayev University.
From June to August 2012, an exhibition called “Treasures of France – French Art and Culture from the Renaissance to the Present Day” was held at the Kasteyev State Museum of Art in Almaty.
The House of Kazakhstan in Paris project serves to integrate the activities of the country’s diplomatic mission, consulate, cultural and linguistic centre and travel agency in the French capital in a single building. Direct flights between Paris and Astana are also planned for the near future.
The two countries have also agreed to carry out expanded cultural exchanges in 2013 and 2014.
Also an agreement on arranging cultural seasons of France in Kazakhstan and Kazakhstan in France in 2013 and 2014 was reached at the highest level.
The French “season” will include major events such as the performance of The National Orchestra of Lille in September 2013 in Astana and Almaty with soloists from Kazakhstan.