President Ma Ying-jeou met on the morning of December 9 with a delegation of French parliamentarians, whom he welcomed to Taiwan and briefed on cooperative achievements between the two countries in the areas of agriculture, economic & trade ties, science & technology, culture & education, and tourism.
In remarks, President Ma stated that Taiwan in March of this year announced the opening of its doors to imports of pork from France and to date it has purchased about 850 metric tons of French pork. In addition, he said, Jean-Philippe Dop, deputy head of France's Food Processing Industry and Forestry Directorate-General for Food (under the Ministry of Agriculture), recently led a delegation of representatives from French pork, produce, and foie gras associations to Taiwan for a French agricultural products and food fair, which was well-received. The president also noted that Taiwan and France on December 5 signed an agreement on cooperation in agriculture in Taipei, and that Taiwan at the same time announced the opening of its doors to poultry imports from France. President Ma said he is confident that the agreement will promote the development of agricultural cooperation as well as economic and trade ties.
Commenting on bilateral interaction, the president noted that France is Taiwan's fourth largest trading partner in Europe, while Taiwan is France's ninth largest trading partner in Asia. In the first 10 months of this year, bilateral trade reached €2.85 billion, up 4.8% year-on-year, he remarked. Meanwhile, France is Taiwan's second largest cooperative partner in science and technology behind only the United States, the president stated, pointing out that the two sides have launched 58 cooperative projects. As for culture and education, institutions of higher learning in the two countries have signed over 300 cooperative agreements, and about 2,500 Taiwanese students are studying in France, while roughly 1,300 French students are studying here, he said. President Ma mentioned that on average 50 French films are screened here annually, which is the highest number in Asia. Also, each year about 40 arts and cultural groups from Taiwan hold performances in France. First Lady Mei-ching Chow (周美青) in September of this year accompanied Taiwan's Contemporary Legend Theatre to France, where she attended their premiere. It was the second time that she had been to France as the troupe's honorary leader.
As for tourism ties, President Ma explained that the European Union (EU) in 2011 began providing visa-free courtesies to ROC nationals traveling to Schengen Agreement member states. In March of the same year, France's 11 territories overseas also began offering visa-free entry to visitors from Taiwan, he said, adding that the number of Taiwanese visiting France in recent years has increased considerably as a result. Commenting on the possibility of a youth working holiday agreement between the two countries, President Ma noted that before he took office in 2008 Taiwan had signed such agreements with only New Zealand and Australia, but the number of countries with which Taiwan has such agreements has risen to 11, including Germany, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. He stated that if Taiwan and France can sign such an agreement, the opportunities for contact between youth of the two countries would increase.
President Ma also mentioned that he once read a novel—La Derniere Classe—published by French novelist Alphonse Daudet in 1873, which described tensions between the two peoples in the 19th century after France and Germany had been at war for many years. However, he said, after World War II, the two nations launched a big exchange student program that cultivated friendship among youth of the two nations. This was the main driver of peace in Europe, he commented, adding that this is what inspired him, after he took office, to open Taiwan's doors to students from mainland China and mitigate the hostile relationship that had existed.
President Ma also pointed out that Taiwan has signed the Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement with mainland China, the Bilateral Investment Arrangement with Japan, the ANZTEC economic cooperation with New Zealand, and the ASTEP economic partnership agreement with Singapore. All of these show Taiwan's determination to participate in regional economic integration, the president stated, further expressing Taiwan's desire to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. He said Taiwan also seeks to sign economic cooperation agreements with ASEAN nations and the EU to promote bilateral economic and trade ties.
The president then thanked France for supporting Taiwan's participation in the World Health Assembly, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and other international organizations. He also stated Taiwan's desire to participate in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which would help Taiwan bring its energy conservation and carbon reduction efforts more closely in line with those of other countries.
The delegation included French National Assemblymen Yves Jego and Franck Reynier, and Senators Jean-Leonce Dupont, Sylvie Goy-Chavent, and Rene Danesi.