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The President of the Republic on the Estonian-French Business Seminar on August 30, 2001

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to open the Estonian-French business seminar.

One month ago, President Jacques Chirac visited Estonia. We were glad to see the French President accompanied by a numerous business delegation that had interesting meetings with the representatives of Estonian companies and ministries. I hope that this seminar will also offer a lot of interesting and useful information and evoke new thoughts on the future closer development of trade and investment ties between Estonia and France.

Estonia and France have had active trade relations throughout the centuries. Estonians brought grain to France and took home the goods that could not be found on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea. Also today, the governments of our two countries have created an environment that should give ample opportunities for the business sector. Our agreement on trade and economic co-operation has been in force ever since 1995. The agreement on the mutual protection of investments entered into force in the same year. Also the agreement on the avoidance of double taxation has been signed. Since 1995, trade relations between the two countries have been regulated by the free trade agreement between Estonia and the European Union.

Estonia wishes to become a member of the European Union. As far as foreign trade and investments are concerned, we are already there: 75% of Estonia's foreign trade is connected to the European Union, and more than 80% of direct foreign investments to Estonia come from the EU member states. In my opinion this clearly demonstrates our priorities.

Unfortunately, Estonia still seems to be outside the scope of France's imagination. Estonia seems to the French to be farther away than Finland. And this, I think, is also the reason why France's share in our foreign trade is more modest than Estonia would have hoped for. With bitterness, I admit that Estonia in her turn has not yet discovered France's leading role in the development of new technology in Europe. We have maintained the illusion that everything new comes from Germany or the United States. As a result, Estonia's export to France and import from France have indeed grown ten times in the last 8 years, but still constitute only 2 per cent of our trade exchange. On the list of our trade partners, France is only in the second dozen. Also France's share of direct investments into Estonia is very modest. French companies have quite actively participated in the privatisation of several Estonian infrastructure enterprises in recent years, but by the middle of this year, the amount of direct investments allocated to Estonia by French entrepreneurs had only reached 13 million Euros, which is mere 0.4 per cent of the total of such investments.

I hope that today's presentations will provide you with necessary information, and that the following discussions will enable you to establish even deeper contacts. Hopefully, this meeting will be profitable for both sides.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.


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