“Nepal and France have a long lasting and historical relationship”

French ambassador to Nepal MARTINE BASSEREAU has served in various countries before her appointment to Nepal in October, 2013 as ambassador. Bassereau has Specialized Graduate Studies (International Law), 1973, and is a Graduate of Political Sciences

July 13, 2014, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 08 No. -3 July. 11- 2014 (Ashar 27, 2071)

How do you see the state of relations between Nepal and France?
Nepal and France have a long lasting and historical relationship. As far back as 1850, Nepali Prime Minister Jang Bahadur Rana visited the French Emperor Napoleon III. The visit was memorable because from this date, the French army inspired uniforms of the Nepal Army, and one French man by the name of Ventnon was hired to organize the military music of Nepal; In addition, the National Museum of Nepal may have been built with help of French engineers. As we commemorate the centenary of the First World War, I recall the heroic battles of 8 battalions of Gurkhas from October 1914 to November 1915, at the border between France and Belgium in a hostile universe.  They took the enemy positions requiring the opposing army to retreat.  Their acts of exceptional bravery earned some of them to receive the Military Medal of the French Government or the Military Cross with Honors.

How long is the history of the diplomatic relations?

The diplomatic relations between France and Nepal were established 65 years ago, with the accreditation of the first French Ambassador to Nepal on 24th of April 1949, even before diplomatic relations between Nepal and India or Nepal and China. Until 1967, the Ambassadors resided in New Delhi; then they became resident with the appointment of Mr. Jean Français as the first resident Ambassador of France to Nepal. 

What binds our relations?

I can cite many other examples demonstrating the strength and intensity of Franco-Nepalese relations. The Panauti Integrated Project in Panauti, a small and a beautiful Newar town. The cleansing of the old town through a network of sewers, and the building of several schools was undertaken by qualified Nepali craftsmen and French volunteers. The exploits of famous French climbers like Maurice Herzog, Pierre Mazeaud and Christine Janin, who were pioneers in scaling some of the tallest peaks in Nepal would not been possible without Nepali guides and friends. Nepal has also been visited by French orientalists like Sylvain Levy (19th century) or Alexandra David-Neel (1912), ethnologists and scientists conducting research on various fields, as, still now, the famous French Director of Research at the National Centre for Scientific Research Gérard Toffin.  French President François Mitterrand made a state-visit to Nepal in May 1983 and the late Prime Minister GP Koirala paid an official visit to France in March 2001.

As Nepal and France have a long history of friendship, how do you see the level of cooperation?

Since 65 years, context has changed. But the level of our relationship stays high. Despite the French government’s decision to close down consular and visa services, I can assure Nepal that France will keep its diplomatic engagement and for that as a French Ambassador, I have three-fold priorities: developing economic diplomacy, development of French cultural and language presence, maintaining the highest level of political and friendly relationships. 

How do you see the form of cooperation?

France contributes 18 % percent to the annual European Union budget.  EU’s top priority sectors are education, human rights, peace-building and election programs etc.  The development assistance France provides through the EU, the biggest aid provider in your country, is substantial. -In the field of seismology, France has been cooperating with Nepal by closely working with the Department of Mines and Geology of the Government of Nepal. In the area of mountaineering, France has given its support to the Nepal Mountaineering Association by extending up-to-date training to Nepali mountain guides in the town of Chamonix in the French Alps.

The Franco-Nepalese cooperation also passes through NGOs and associations, no matter whether they are 100% French or in partnership with Nepalese NGOs. They work in many areas of cooperation: educational, medical, agricultural, etc. Similarly, young French volunteers, students and young professionals are increasingly many who decide to spend their vacation time to provide assistance to associations and other organizations in Nepal which work especially for children and women.

France has provided many support in the past to Nepal including in the areas of civil aviation. What are the areas currently France has been supporting to Nepal?

The French cultural presence has always been strong. Strong bonds of friendship are normal between two countries which both have comparable cultural and artistic richness. For developing them, the Guimet Museum – Museum of Asian Arts - in Paris, in cooperation with the Nepalese authorities, has a projectin 2016, to exhibit around one hundred of works of arts, among the best preserved pieces in the West and in the museums of the Kathmandu Valley. This exhibition would mark the 50th anniversary of the first Nepalese art exhibition organized with the artifacts borrowed from the Department of Archaeology of Nepal in 1966. This first exhibition was held on the occasion of the visit of the then King Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah in France.

How do you see other relations?

France is also active in the promotion of the French language worldwide.  For this purpose, the Alliance Française in Kathmandu (AFK), which is supported by the French Government, enrolls about 1000 students every year.  It also organizes musical events, screening of French films and has a small library with French literature.  AFK also houses “Campus France”, which is established by the French Government in order to promote French higher education abroad; this office provides all the necessary information to Nepali students wishing to pursue their studies at the PhD and Masters levels.

Now, thanks to the successful visit of the French business delegation last April, and as it is in my priorities, France wants to support French investment in Nepal in priority areas for both countries: tourism, agricultureurban development,infrastructure,hydroelectricity,solar energy etc.

Even now, Nepal's private sector is operating French built ATR. Is there any other areas in aviation Nepal can still make benefits from French technology?

As you know, the ATR aircraft, a Franco-Italian joint venture, has shown that in these times when environmental issues have become a real global challenge it is possible to link progress with care for the environment.  These planes are known to be the best turbo propelled aircraft emitting 50% less carbon dioxide per passenger per kilometer in comparison to the new generation jets.  More, in 2015, two Airbus A320 will be delivered to Nepal which would allow it to introduce new flying routes towards Middle East, Thailand and Singapore. Moreover, Airbus and ATR would certainly remain open towards discussions on civil aviation modernization plans that the newly formed Nepalese government is discussing at the moment.

In the case of civil aviation, France is supporting Nepal through the European Union Delegation who is preparing a technical cooperation program with the goal to upgrade Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal’s standards to the international norms set by ICAO and the EASA.  Once the program is fully established, there is a possibility that France may complement the EU’s program.

Recently, a high level French business delegation visited Nepal. How do you see the implications of the visit?

Yes, last April, there was a high level French business delegation who visited Nepal.  The main objective of the visit was to explore trade and investment opportunities in Nepal. After their visit, they all had one common feedback: Nepal is indeed open for business.  It is this sort of message that gives a confidence boost to prospective investors—French and others---of which there is no shortage of.  

I would like to reiterate that France is keen to support the development of Nepal and is willing to use all its available resources.  In October/November 2014, there would be another business delegation focusing on the agriculture sector since this is a key sector for Nepal and as the Minister of Agricultural Development pointed out: Nepal’s road to prosperity begins from developing and strengthening its agricultural sector.   

As Nepal and France have been working to promote the bilateral trade, your government has shut down visa section from French Embassy in Kathmandu. What may be the reason behind shutting down visa section?

As you know, France has the world's 3rd largest diplomatic network, with 163 embassies, 16 permanent representations and 92consular offices.  This universality does not mean its immobility. It knows the constant adjustments needed to meet new foreign policy priorities, the evolution of international issues, and the development ofFrenchcommunities abroad.

As you also know, France is engaged in an effort to control public accounts andreduce deficit.  French Ministry of Foreign Affairs must take part in this joint exercise by adapting to the tasks carried out by various embassies.In this context, the French Foreign Ministry began discussions on the prospects of adapting its diplomatic network, which led to a redefinition of the scope of consular activities in about 20 countries, including Nepal.Thus, the consular section and the visa sectionof theFrench Embassy in Kathmandu were closed.  All the consular activities have been taken upby the French Embassy in New Delhi.

But this does not change our commitment to promote bilateral economic and trade exchanges between France and Nepal and will have no negative impact on our cooperation. We remain very vigilant about visa applications lodged with VFS Global/Kathmandu and VFS Global/New Delhi by political, government, and business delegations, when they are reported to us.

From urban transport to electronic mechanical sector in hydropower, what are the goods Nepal can export to France?

In 2012, French exports to Nepal accounted for just over € 18.2 million and exports from Nepal to France were € 15 million.  So far, Nepal is mainly exporting textiles products towards France (almost 85 % of Nepalese exports in 2013).  It is a noticeable performance as Nepal is competing with many countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in this field. Of course, the capacity of Nepal to diversify its exports to France will depend on the development of its industry. French investments in Nepal will clearly help to improve the competitiveness of Nepalese companies.  I strongly believe that the commercialization of organic agriculture products such as coffee, tea, garlic, spices, herbal products etc. would be beneficial to both France and Nepal as France is also a top agriculture country which has incorporated new technologies for efficient production.

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