Vietnam and France have long-standing ties and deep connections in areas such as history, culture, education, politics and economy. In an interview with The Saigon Times, Emmanuelle Pavillon-Grosser, consul general of France in HCMC, talked about potentials and expectations for enhancing bilateral relations between Vietnam and France. Excerpts:
The Saigon Times: How would you describe the current state of France-Vietnam relations? Could you give some specific examples of how France and Vietnam work together?
Emmanuelle Pavillon-Grosser: We are very pleased to celebrate our 50th anniversary this year. For us, it is a very important day to celebrate, and we are very happy with all the results we have achieved in 50 years in all sectors.
In the economic sector, we have many enterprises exporting to Vietnam, and Vietnamese companies exporting to France. We are very happy to have about 8 billion euros in trade in 2022. That is a great number despite the pandemic. We hope that it is going to grow for the next 50 years.
We also have French people who invested here and created very successful companies such as Annam Gourmet or Phoenix Travel. We have a very active French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Vietnam with more than 250 members.
In the education sector, we are very happy to have some 6,000 students from Vietnam studying in France. Now, we also have French students coming to Vietnam to study. It is a very dynamic sector. We think that the youth is the future of relations between the two countries. It is a good thing if young people from both countries travel and discover other cultures and languages. We are very glad to see that many schools continue to have bilingual courses.
I cannot forget culture. We have artists coming to Vietnam and Vietnamese artists taking up residence in, for example, Paris, and are very successful in France. We are trying to develop a relationship in every sector. We are very happy about that.
Vietnam has exported many agricultural and aquatic products to France. However, under the IUU Regulations, Vietnam’s seafood exports to the EU face great difficulties. What does Vietnam need to do to meet the requirements of IUU so that the EC removes the yellow card for seafood exports from Vietnam?
The yellow card was issued by the European Union. It means that it is a decision made collectively and not by one member state, such as France. I was informed that there was a first mission in 2017 when they established some requirements that were not met in different areas and a list of recommendations was issued. There was another visit in the autumn of 2022. There has been another report issued and given to the Vietnamese authorities. I think the report mentions what is wrong and what should be done. The experts are usually quite precise about it. On the French side, we are trying to help Vietnam develop fish farms and aquaculture to solve illegal fishing.
France has a reputation as a world center for the arts, science and philosophy. The architecture is also still preserved through centuries. In Vietnam, there are many buildings with French architecture. Could you tell us how France restores, maintains and preserves its cultural heritage?
It is very important to preserve heritage. We are in a French consulate’s premises—a historical building that is 151 years old. We are happy to have 49 sites listed on the world heritage list at UNESCO.
First, because it is our history, and we consider history very important. If you want to grow, you need to know your roots, just like a tree. Second, it is something that we need to preserve. In France, what we do to preserve our heritage is to make a list of preserved historical monuments. When a monument is on this list, its owner cannot do anything without getting the approval of the local cultural representative of the state. That allows us to make sure that everything is preserved.
Obviously, it can be modernized, but you have to respect some rules and ensure that it is in accordance with what was built before. The good thing for the owner is that they can ask for money to help preserve the monument. Whether it is a castle, a very old house, or even something more contemporary, if it is on this list, you can get money to help you preserve it. That is one way to ensure it is in a good state.
The other thing is that, as French people, we are taught about heritage at a very young age. We make sure that the young generation knows about heritage and is keen on preserving it.
How does the French Government attract Vietnamese students to study in France? And how does the youth participate in the development of the Vietnam-France relationship?
We are very happy to see that many young Vietnamese people want to study in France. We hope to continue to help them study. We have different grant programs, and we are very proud to have welcomed more than 1,000 students, thanks to the grants given by the government. We have made it even bigger. We increased the number of grants given to young students last year by 20%.
Vietnam is the third country in terms of students who receive money from the French state to go to France. We have very good schools in every field, and universities in mathematics, junior sciences, marketing, etc. In all sectors, we welcome young Vietnamese to France.
On the other hand, we have more and more French schools and universities interested in setting up a campus in Vietnam. It allows French students to come, study and join Vietnamese institutions. After that, they can return to France and study. It is a win-win situation. And the exchanges between the young students are the best way to get to know each other.
Vietnam is one of the few countries affected by climate change and rising sea levels. As a leading country in the fight against climate change, how will France support Vietnam?
France is working very closely with Vietnam, and we are lucky to have the French Development Agency, which is very active in Vietnam. They have a mandate that is 100% oriented to climate change. They aim to deal with or forecast the consequences of climate change in Vietnam.
They have many different programs in more than 10 provinces in Vietnam. They put a lot of money into these projects. For example, a big project they have in Hau Giang is to help fight coastal erosion and protect all the beaches in that area. They have put in EUR35 million, which is a big sum. In other areas in the Mekong Delta, they have some projects to avoid floating.
On the other hand, we also have experts who are studying the consequences of climate change. All of this is very useful in preventing the consequences of climate change. We try to help as much as we can, and I hope we will have more and more projects together.
France has a very developed tourism industry and is the world’s leading source of tourism resources. What measures does France implement to develop its tourism industry and attract more tourists?
Tourism is a big sector for France. France is the first destination in the world for a number of tourists. In normal times, some 90 million people visit France. We started thinking about our policy toward tourism to attract more tourists and protect our sites, especially natural and historical sites.
Having a lot of tourists is great for the economy, but it can be destructive in some cases. We are trying to work with the ministries in charge of the environment to protect all the places tourists visit. We are developing more and more infrastructure that is respectful of the environment. In some cases, we have to limit the number of people that can go simultaneously. When you start to have growing numbers of tourists, you need to be careful about what you build, what kind of money and what kind of hotels and resorts you build to protect nature and historical sites.
You must also try to protect those working in that sector because it can be very stressful.
Vietnam and France are approaching the 50th anniversary of their relationship in 2023. What do you expect in the Vietnam-France relationship in the coming years?
We hope to develop our relations with Vietnam in all sectors. We hope that the free trade agreement that was signed between the EU and Vietnam will be enforced in all sectors. In some sectors where things are not going so smoothly, we hope it will be easier in the coming years, such as the pharmaceutical or agriculture sectors. We hope to develop even more ties on the economic side and in other fields. We hope to welcome more and more students and attract more tourists on both sides. We hope to develop French language teaching in Vietnam and have more and more people learning French.
In 2023, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between France and Vietnam. The French Embassy and the French Consulate will organize several events in Vietnam, from Hanoi to HCMC, Danang or Hoi An. We will list everything on our website and Facebook page. We hope to see a lot of Vietnamese friends join in our events, and we hope we can celebrate this year together in France.
Reported by Kim Ngan