ASTANA – French President Francois Hollande commended Kazakhstan for “successfully pursuing its goals in economic development” and playing “an important political and diplomatic role” that allows Astana “to engage in dialogue on an equal footing with its neighbours and influence major political events,” as he began his two-day official visit to Kazakhstan on Dec. 5.
The talks in Astana and Almaty with President Nursultan Nazarbayev were aimed at helping advance the strategic partnership between the two nations in business, science, education and international politics.
“France is a leading trade partner of our country. More than 100 companies with French capital currently operate in Kazakhstan. There are numerous joint ventures and dozens of new projects being implemented. I am glad you are accompanied by a large group of businesspeople and I am confident our meeting will influence the future of our relations,” Nazarbayev said as he received his guest in the Akorda presidential residence.
President Hollande confirmed the high priority he put on the visit to Astana.
“Today, a large delegation arrived with me It includes ministers, parliamentarians, businessmen and university rectors. This demonstrates France’s level of interest in cooperation with Kazakhstan, the largest economy in Central Asia,” the French leader stated.
He also highlighted the visit’s relevance to global politics.
”We are meeting at a time when there is a tense situation between Russia and other European countries. We want the problem solved; and in this context your country plays a special role,” he said.
According to Nazarbayev, Astana and Paris have much in common regarding their positions on the Ukrainian crisis.
Kazakhstan’s leader was quick to emphasise, however, that the situation “has many layers” and should be viewed in a broad context. He stressed that no crisis lasts forever and that all wars end with peace and that is why “cornering one side is not the best of solutions.” Therefore, Nazarbayev expressed his satisfaction with the fact that the French leader shared his firm belief in the need to find a compromise and way out of the ongoing confrontation.
Nazarbayev expressed his hope that the current unfavourable conditions in global politics and economics will not hinder the mutually beneficial economic cooperation between the two nations.
“We have completed 10 [major] industrial projects with France; 18 more are being implemented. These projects involve machinery, communications, the space industry, medicine, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and infrastructure development,” Nazarbayev said.
Major French partners of Kazakh companies include EADS, Alstrom, Total, GDF-Suez, PSA Peugeot Citroen and Danone, among others.
President Nazarbayev called on French companies to make use of the benefits offered to foreign investors participating in Kazakhstan’s new industrialisation programme. On this matter, EXPO 2017 in Astana serves as a good stimulus to expand cooperation in branches of industry related to clean energy and high technology. Speaking at the Kazakhstan-French business forum in Astana on Dec. 5, President Hollande confirmed that his country will be well represented at the event in Astana that is less than three years away.
“I want to assure you, Mr. President, that we are going to be actively and dynamically participating in this project. EXPO 2017 will serve as a showcase of science and education,” he noted.
Education was discussed a lot during the talks in Astana. A number of intergovernmental agreements were signed on cooperation in education and scientific research, including on the mutual recognition of academic degrees, as well as collaboration in the development of civil services and clean energy.
A branch of Sorbonne University, the first in Central Asia, opened in Almaty on Dec. 6, with Presidents Nazarbayev and Hollande attending the formalities.
Kazakhstan is putting measures in place to make it easier and more attractive for French companies to invest and work in Kazakhstan. Steps to be taken include a new visa-free regime for French nationals, as well as nine other countries with major investments in Kazakhstan wishing to travel to the country for a period of two weeks. Starting in January, Kazakhstan is also simplifying the process for hiring foreign workers while more favourable tax treatment for investors involved in priority projects will also come into force.
In the first nine months of 2014, the trade turnover between the two countries amounted to $4.7 billion (exports: $3.8 billion, imports $873 million.) In 2013, the volume of bilateral trade reached $4.84 billion (exports: $4.1 billion, imports: $708 million.) Also, France is the third largest source of foreign direct investment in Kazakhstan, after the Netherlands and the U.K. The gross inflow of direct investment from France to Kazakhstan’s economy since 2005 amounts to about $10.8 billion.
Ahead of the visit, experts noted that Kazakhstan is also a key part of the Northern Distribution Network, enabling international, including French, forces to withdraw military and other equipment from Afghanistan.
Concluding the first day of his two-day visit to Kazakhstan, which was accompanied by a powerful snow storm in Astana, President Holland addressed the French expatriate community at the Rixos Hotel in Astana. According to the Elysee Palace’s press service, 116 French nationals reside in the capital city and 400 across the country.
Although it was Hollande’s first visit to Kazakhstan, it was not the first one by a French President, with Nicolas Sarkozy having visited in 2009 and the late Francois Mitterrand in 1993.
However, it was the famous General Charles de Gaulle, first among French leaders to walk on Kazakh soil back in 1966 when he became probably the first foreign leader to be allowed to visit the then secret Soviet space port Baikonur and witness the launch of a Soviet rocket into space. Out of respect to the legendary figure of French and 20th century world history, a major street in Astana was named after him and a monument to him will soon be unveiled in an adjacent park.