Women in Diplomacy

French envoy says Kuwait has a special role in the Gulf region

By Reaven D’Souza
Managing Editor

France marks Bastille Day with subdued celebrations

Kuwait and France enjoy excellent bilateral relations since the independence of Kuwait in 1961, disclosed H E Elisabeth Barbier, Charge d’affaires during a press briefing at the French Embassy yesterday.

Speaking to the media on the eve of Bastille Day, or French National Day which is a day of celebration for the French people, Barbier noted that the celebrations in France this year would be subdued because of the coronavirus pandemic, but nevertheless there would be parades and fireworks to mark the occasion.

This year the celebrations would be to show gratefulness to the frontline workers such as health workers as well as the military, police and municipal workers and volunteers. Celebrations will also include an airshow and grand fireworks display, she pointed out but added that crowds will not be allowed to attend due to restrictions.

The French embassy in Kuwait, which celebrates the event grandly every year with a reception will only have virtual activities and people can participate through their social media account, Barbier disclosed.

Pointing at the historical friendship, Barbier noted that there have been continuous and frequent high level exchanges which includes visits from the Kuwait’s deputy prime minister and minister of defense to France last year as well as the visit of the president of the French Senate to Kuwait early last year.

“The relationship is active in several areas, and we wish more can be done in trade and commerce,” Barbier pointed out. She said that a delegation of French businessmen was due to visit Kuwait but under the present circumstances it was postponed. A new date is being decided but pointed out that webinars were popular nowadays and that option is not being ruled out.

Barbier was unsure if trade has come down in the last three months because of the lockdown as the latest figures would only be made available at a later date but did not foresee a sharp drop as cargo and freight movement did not stop during this time, she noted.

Regarding cooperation between the two governments in the medical field particularly on the coronavirus, Barbier said that at the official level there was no specific cooperation but traditionally there has been cooperation between Kuwait and France to train Kuwaiti medical interns in French hospitals and there has been an agreement to that affect. Barbier noted that it would also be useful to exchange experience during the crises and lessons learnt on the preparedness.

Barbier also announced that the French visa outsourcing centre was functioning and was accepting visa applications for priority cases which included students and people who needed long stay for business and residence of families. The French Embassy issued almost 42,000 visas in 2019, indicating France was among the favoured destinations for Kuwaitis. Barbier also disclosed that around 200 Kuwaiti students were enrolled in French universities

She clarified that no request of tourism visas was being accepted as of now because of the European Union decision that permitted only certain nationalities from entering the EU. This matter was being dealt by the European Union ambassador to Kuwait who explained the criteria and reasons for the decisions not to permit entry for certain nationals as of now.

Barbier pointed out that there was no negative list but only a Green list for countries whose citizens were allowed to enter. This depended on many factors such as number of positive cases, new cases vis-à-vis the population and also reciprocity. She was hopeful that a new list would be released on July 15 further adding new countries to the Green list.

Barbier further pointed out that France was among one of the largest recipients of tourists in the world and it constituted almost 8 per cent of their GDP. Thousands of jobs depended on tourism and hence it was painful to close this industry.

Regarding trade, Barbier said that trade between the two countries grew significantly and in 2018 bilateral trade stood at 976 million euros. There are about 26 French companies operating in Kuwait in various sectors including health, fashion, food etc.  Barbier disclosed that there were more than 2000 French based companies doing business with Kuwaiti businesses dealing in different products.

“We wish for more investment from Kuwaitis in France,” Barbier indicated, adding that France was recognised as the top destination for investment in Europe last year. She said that French companies have shown keen interest to participate in all the mega projects in Kuwait as part of the country’s 2035 vision and French companies had a solution in various fields including green economy that would help Kuwait a lot.

Kuwait has hundreds of students studying in French universities and more than 3000 medical visas were issued last year for treatment of Kuwaiti nationals.

Regarding the postponment of the strategic dialogue between Kuwait and France that was scheduled to be held in March, Barbier hoped that it would take place before the end of 2020. “Kuwait has a special role in the Gulf region and is a good mediator, Kuwait is also a strong proponent of multilateralism and had a successful 2-year term at the security council,” she pointed out.

“We like to listen to Kuwait and on how and what Kuwait analyses the situation in the region,” Barbier praised Kuwaiti diplomatic initiatives adding that Kuwait is trying very hard to mediate in the region and noted that France and Kuwait had many common views on several aspects in the region.

Barbier spoke on the uncertainty of the region including the situation in Lebanon, which she described as dire while on Iraq she said with the new Prime Minister the country was trying to stabilise itself. Regarding Iran, she explained that their position along with Germany and the UK was that Iran abides by their commitments to the International Atomic Agency. She however noted that the region itself was a complex one.

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