Ambassador eyes potential in France


BY PAUL GABRIEL

THE Malaysia Boleh slogan is being recognised in one of the world’s most famous cities, and it’s an inspiring Malaysian woman who has been leading the charge in Paris.  

Malaysian Ambassador to France Tunku Datuk Nazihah Tunku Mohd Rus refuses to eat humble pie, let alone swallow it, in the world’s renowned fashion capital and in a country ranked as the fourth largest economic power.  

These are some of her “demands” to the parties concerned.  

·Air France – “Fly to Malaysia.”  

·Pierre Cardin (French fashion house) – “Use Malaysian batik and songket to create your designs”  

·French golfers – “Swing it in Malaysia”.  

·French small and medium-scale industries – “It’s time you turn to Malaysia”  

·French tourists – “Malaysia is truly Asia”  

The slender but doggedly determined ambassador has been holding court at dinners and coffee morning events, and the French are beginning to take note.  

“France is an industrial superpower, but Malaysia is not getting enough (business) from them,’’ she laments.  

“We want to even things up (in trade) to encourage more French companies to buy from Malaysia.  

“Malaysia has all the rules and regulations in place (for conducive business). On our part, we are conducting investment promotions in various cities of France and we hope that this will pay off.  

“Even if we do not see immediate results, we expect some developments in the near future,’’ she added in an interview at the Malaysian Embassy in Paris recently.  

Also present was the embassy’s counsellor Chuah Teong Ban, Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (Mida) director in France Tan Piak Bong, and Malaysian Association in France (MAF) president Wan Hua Chapouthier.  

Tunku Nazihah, who was posted to France in 1999, has been laying the groundwork for improved business ties between both countries by also promoting people-to-people contact.  

A group comprising presidents of French golf clubs have visited Malaysia, while Malaysian cultural troupes have been captivating French audiences.  

The embassy has also hosted a dinner for 200 French guests, including the Mayor of Paris, to promote Malaysia’s attractions.  

Tunku Nazihah said the six weekly flights between Kuala Lumpur and Paris (three more weekly flights were added on from March 31), would greatly boost interchange between both countries.  

“From November onwards, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) will operate daily flights between both sectors.  

“The route is quite lucrative and airlines should cash in. We would like Air France to also fly to KL,’’ she added.  

According to figures obtained by the embassy, about 33,000 French tourists visited Malaysia in 2001 and 27,000 last year.  

“Within Asean, we fare quite poorly (in terms of French tourist arrivals). The reduced arrivals could be due to the world economic slowdown.  

“But the French love the jungles and adventure and Malaysia can be a paradise to them,’’ she noted.  

The ambassador is trying unorthodox ways to promote Malaysia in France.  

Crates of Malaysian tiger prawns exported to France have a question about Malaysia imprinted on every box.  

There is a contest and winners are presented air tickets to Malaysia, courtesy of MAS.  

“These are some of the interesting ways we work on to promote our country here,’’ she added.  

In selected schools, art competitions are held and French pupils are asked to do research about Malaysia’s attractions and draw scenes of them.  

Tunku Nazihah was at the forefront of a “Malaysia Week” event held at a city near Paris from March 24 to April 11.  

The Malaysian External Trade Department (Matrade), Mida and the Tourism and Culture Ministry joined hands to make the event a success.  

“Even the city mayor was very co-operative. I declared open the event and spoke in French, as the French are proud of their language,’’ disclosed the ambassador.  

Tunku Nazihah has not been confining herself to the beautiful settings of Paris. She makes it a priority to criss-cross France to interact and “look out for business.’’  

In the northern city of Lille, she met the business sector to promote Malaysian food products and also talked to companies that imported tiger prawns from Malaysia.  

“The tiger prawn importers were very happy with the quality of our product,’’ she added.  

In the southern city of Toulon, the embassy distributed VCDs on Malaysia’s attractions.  

The ambassador, who admits to being fashion conscious, is now out to promote Malaysian textiles in trend-setting Paris.  

“Our textiles have the quality to make it big in France. Our batik and kain songket can be used to make fashionable attire here.  

“The Indonesians have done it, and so can we. French fashion designers are always looking out for new ideas.  

“I am trying to seek out a French fashion house to be involved. Pierre Cardin has expressed an interest in Malaysian batik and songket,’’ she said, pointing out that Malaysian batik vendors experienced roaring business during a promotional visit near Paris recently.  

Tan said over the past five years, there were a total of 23 French investment projects in Malaysia, valued at RM161mil, adding that there were a total of 160 French firms operating in Malaysia.  

The Mida office in France also oversees Spain and Portugal.  

“Mida has been adopting a targeted approach by focusing on French small and medium-scale enterprises.  

“We have been conducting trade and investment seminars in various cities and the results are yet to be seen, we are confident of eventual success,’’ she added.  

Tan said International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz was scheduled to visit Paris to address a trade and investment seminar on June 13. The minister was in Paris on a similar mission in 2001.  

She said large French companies already operating in Malaysia were re-investing in their operations there, adding that between 1998 and 2002, there were a total of 15 reinvestment projects in Malaysia.  

“However, in terms of new French projects (in Malaysia), there were only 10. We need to see more fresh investments,’’ she stressed.  

Tan said Matrade would be organising a “buying spree” soon to encourage more French companies to buy Malaysian products.  

Ipoh-born Chapouthier, who moved to Paris in 1971, commended Tunku Nazihah for her grand efforts and asked that all Malaysians support her.  

“I have worked under eight Malaysian ambassadors in France and Tunku Nazihah has, by far, been our best representative.  

“Members of MAF are proud of her determined efforts and we are giving her our wholehearted support,’’ she added. There are about 650 Malaysians living in France.  

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