KOTA KINABALU: The Embassy of France in Malaysia is seeking to develop bilateral relations as well as enhance cooperation in education and culture, with Sabah.
Its ambassador, Frederic Laplanche, said he sought to establish cooperation with the local authorities to develop the presence of French companies in the state.
He is also looking into having the French language taught in more schools and the possibility of organizing cultural activities linked to French festivals in Sabah in efforts to enhance education and cultural cooperation.
Apart from Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), Laplanche said there were currently five intermediate schools teaching the French language in the state, namely SM St Michael, SM Science Sabah, SMK Sanzac, SM Science Lahad Datu and SM Elopura in Sandakan.
He said the embassy had been supporting the French language teachers by providing books to UMS and organizing regular training courses in the country.
Additionally, he said the embassy worked with the Malaysian Ministry of Education to bring Malaysian French language teachers to France for training.
“At the moment, we have doubled the number of secondary school students who learn French to 15,000 over the past five years.
“It is a good investment for pupils to learn another language. I think it brings a lot of openness and gives access to new culture,” Laplanche said in a press conference here yesterday during his maiden visit to Sabah in conjunction with the French warship port call at Sepanggar naval base. The French warship was launched a few months ago and sailed off the south of France in August.
Laplanche said the port call was an important event as France and Malaysia have close cooperation in defence.
“This port call gave me an opportunity to come to Sabah, but that is not the only element. We are seeking cooperation in all sectors,” he said, adding that he had met with the Head of State Tun Juhar Mahiruddin, Chief Minister Tan Sri Musa Aman and Mayor Datuk Yeo Boon Hai.
On the other hand, Laplanche said the bilateral trade between France and Malaysia was on the rise.
At present, he said close to 300 French companies have presence in Malaysia, which operated in air transport, water management, construction, banks and hotel industries.
Eighty per cent of the 300 companies are the 40 largest companies in France, he said.
In terms of bilateral trade, French exports to Malaysia stood at 1.5 billion Euros last year, an increase of 7.9 per cent compared to 2015, while Malaysian exports to France was recorded at 2.1 billion Euros.
He said France was the 16th supplier of Malaysia, whereas Malaysia is the 44th client of his country.
He said the figures showed that there was plenty of room for improvement in bilateral trade between both countries.
Laplanche said half of the French exports to Malaysia was air transport equipment, while the rest were products for industrial sectors, food, luxury goods and other consumer products.
Meanwhile, he said Malaysia mostly export consumer products, including food and electronics, to Europe.
That said, Laplanche pointed out that several French companies invested in Malaysia have been exporting their products and services to the rest of the world.
For instance, the Safran Group has invested in the manufacturing of carbon brakes for aircraft in Negeri Sembilan.
He said this French company accounted for 20 per cent of the world’s market share for aircraft brakes.
“This means that 20 per cent of the brakes on planes are made in Malaysia.”
Another French company, Arkema, has invested USD 1 billion in manufacturing chemical-based feed for animals in Terengganu and exports 95 per cent of its production to the rest of the world, he said.
Additionally, Laplanche said the Airbus-owned Sepang Aircraft Engineering (SAE) has been carrying out repair and maintenance for aircraft from India, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries, in Kuala Lumpur.
He said France was also trying to attract more Malaysian investors into its market.
“France is the largest economy in the world, with a strong growth of 1.8 per cent this year and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 2.5 trillion Euros.”
Laplanche said Malaysian investors could consider investing in the infrastructure development of the Greater Paris project or in startup and high-tech companies.
He said France had recently established the largest startup incubator in the world called Station F.
“We are going to have 1,000 startups in the incubator right in the heart of Paris.
“This is where you can invest as Malaysian companies if you are in venture capital,” he said.
On another note, Laplanche said his embassy had registered more than 3,500 French people living in Malaysia, though the actual number could be higher.
He said there were over 250 French people living in Sabah, who were in the tourism, construction, information technology (IT) and the restaurant sectors.
“It is a community of French people who are very happy to live in Sabah,” Laplanche said after having his first meeting with the French community here at a get-together on Sunday.
Laplanche, who arrived in Malaysia in June, described Kota Kinabalu as a beautiful city.
His favourite Malaysian food is nasi lemak and the ambassador is in the process of learning the Malay language.
He studied at the Institute of Political Science and Institute of Oriental Languages in Paris where he learned Mandarin.
Laplanche was previously an advisor for relationship with Asia and America to the French foreign minister and head of European Union office in Taiwan. His first posting was serving as the First Secretary of the French Embassy in Beijing 15 years ago.