Interview by


Last year in Vol. # 92 we detailed French Ambassador Christian Prettre’s background, but this year we will focus on important issues that have cropped up during his tenure as France’s number one diplomat in the Land of Smiles. The two Scotts combined on this story. Scott Herron prepared the questions and Scott Murray posed them and wrote up the interview. We hope you enjoy it. 

What is the current trade situation between France and Thailand?

The overall value of exchange between Thailand and France went up twenty percent last year from Bt14 billion French francs in 1999 to Bt17 billion French francs in 2000. Our cover rate of exports to imports also went up from thirty-three to forty-two percent.

But by and large we have a structural deficit with Thailand, as does most of our European partners, with one caveat of course - providing that the statistics are correct (sometimes Thai and French statistics don’t always match). However, we don’t measure the importance of our relationship with Thailand on the scale of trade and exchange, even in the economic field. Investments are also considered as a major component of the whole picture.

Besides, statistics are a useful reference but they can be misleading. Remember some of the Thai exports to France, e.g. Lacoste, originate from French companies manufacturing here.


Are more and more French firms setting up in Thailand or is there a wait and see attitude?

Definitely, there is more of a wait and see attitude. In 1999, there was an upsurge in the French presence, especially in the retail sector. But last year there was a slowdown, partly because of the slow recovery of the South-East economies. Quite likely French investors were more excited about business prospects in China and South Korea.

Since it was an election year, there were also political questions:  who would be in charge and what would be the economic policy of the new government? Moreover, domestic consumption slowed down, as people were very careful with their money.

But the big French firms that are here will continue to expand. Casino (Big C) and Carrefour plan to open more stores throughout the country and Thainox, St. Gobain and Michelin are all planning extensions to their already existing facilities.

What are your views on the new Taksin administration?

It’s really too early to tell. I understand that the Prime Minister Mr. Taksin will foster what he calls the “real economy” with an emphasis on the agricultural sector, while favoring national economic interests (e.g. promoting Thai products on the domestic market). This is not worrying, as long as there is no discriminatory legislation. It’s a stage many nations go through, we’ve seen it in Europe before. It would be more worrying if some legal constraints were imposed, though.


What is your view of the Asset Management Corporation?

The AMC won’t solve all the credit difficulties. We believe that an arrangement to alleviate the NPLs should be associated with an improvement in corporate management.

There’s no shortage of money – the banks have liquidity, they have the money to lend. What is lacking is confidence for those borrowing money and those lending it.  


By 2005, Thailand is supposed to give MFN treatment to all countries in the WTO. How will this affect French investment in the future?

Right now our joint ventures are fairly successful in many fields. But of course, more freedom to invest and more equality of status are always good things. The main incentive for further French investment would be confidence in the stability of the legal framework.

For many years, many foreign firms have complained about the lack of quality middle management in Thailand – how are the French dealing with this?

French firms like Essilnor (which makes sophisticated optical lenses) Casino and Carrefour have all developed training systems for their staff to meet the growing demand for good technical and managerial staff.

Other companies like Thainox for example, through their association with the Thai French Innovation Centre (TFIC), give priority to training and education in industrial technologies. The TFIC, (which the Ambassador just happens to be co-president of) is a good example of a combined effort between Thai institutions, French public funding and French firms established in Thailand. This not only develops good middle management people but upper management personnel as well.


Are there any other major French projects on the table we should know about?

Prospects are good for a French-Japanese consortium involving Astom and Mitsubishi to contract with the BMCL for the rolling stock for the MRTA’s underground subway – the Blue Line. This will be a private joint venture without public funding. 


The Burmese situation has long been a thorn in the side of EU-ASEAN relations – where does the situation stand now? 

Well the Burmese problem is an old one but it is good to see that there are new prospects as Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta are talking again. An EU delegation visited Burma at the end of January and expressed support for a dialogue between the two sides. The EU common position on Burma will be reviewed in April. It has already allowed for a resumed political dialogue at the ministerial level with ASEAN, including Burma, whose participation had stalled the process since 1997. Consequently, a meeting of EU and ASEAN foreign ministers or deputies took place in Vientiane last December.  


Are the French encouraged or discouraged with the protection of intellectual property rights here in Thailand?

As the French make a number of luxury items e.g. Lacoste, Vuitton, Chanel or Cartier, the protection of trademarks is very important to us. So we very much support the trend in this country towards strengthening and enforcing laws and regulations in the field of intellectual property.

Thailand has set up a new intellectual property court to enforce these new regulations, and we see this as very positive sign. The French National Institute of Industrial Property is now working in close cooperation with Thai officials and has set up a specialized body where French experts now work closely with Thai experts exchanging assistance and know-how.

There are still intellectual property violations taking place but it is clear that Thai authorities are taking this issue much more seriously now and I believe that this is a good indication of Thailand’s growing industrial maturity. The Thais realize that it is in their best interest to have strong intellectual property laws.      


What do you think the French can learn from the Thais and vice versa?

Thai people are rightly known for showing much politeness and courteous manners in their personal relations. I think this trait makes life here easier here than in industrialized societies like France, where social relationships are not so friendly. Maybe we should draw something from Thai culture in this respect.

The French, on the other hand, have a gift for improvisation and reacting to the unexpected and maybe the Thais can learn from us in this regard.


You’ve long had a problem of overcrowding with the Lycee and the Alliance Francaise – how does the situation stand now?

The Lycee, which has about 500 students ranging from kindergarten to baccalaureate, will move in less than three years to the Lad Phrao area where a brand new school will be built. It will have modern facilities and be well equipped, not only in the classrooms and laboratories but it will also have sports fields, a swimming pool and playgrounds. The Alliance will stay at its present premises on Sathorn, where it will expand its facilities once the Lycee has moved.   


What charitable activities does the French  Embassy partake in?

We are very active in the diplomatic circles promoting the Thai Red Cross. We organize fundraisers for it, and we also provide some aid to poor families. 


How is life as an ambassador in Thailand different from any other posting?

The responsibilities of being an ambassador are pretty much the same everywhere unless you are ambassador to an international organization like the UN in New York or Geneva or the EC in Brussels. The bilateral work is the same, the PR, the information gathering as well as promoting our national, economic and cultural interests. It’s just that the context changes.

This is my first posting in Asia and I find it very interesting to discover a totally different culture. I’m fascinated by the way Thailand is influenced by its tradition and religion, even though this is probably going to change with the emergence of the new urban middle class adopting more western ways of life.   


What are your hobbies?

Antiques and golf. I used to be more of a tennis player but I find it too hot to play here so I switched to golf, although unfortunately I have more enthusiasm than talent.    



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