MANILA – The Philippines and France have solidified further bilateral relations and cooperation with the signing of four government-to-government and two business agreements that will promote tourism and education exchanges, environment protection, and transport and business cooperation.
The agreements were signed after the expanded bilateral meeting between President Benigno Aquino III and visiting French President Francois Hollande at Malacanang Palace on Thursday evening.
The two countries agreed to enhance tourism cooperation through the promotion of the Philippines in France as quality destination, the acquisition of best practices in natural and cultural heritage tourism, development of human resource capacities, expansion of business opportunities for the Philippines industry private sector and, the creation of new tourism products.
France is the third largest tourist market of the Philippines in Europe.
”It is also my hope that this will encourage more of our friends from France to follow the footsteps of President Hollande, visit the Philippines, and see for themselves how it is more fun in our country,” President Aquino said.
Also a signed agreement was for the declaration of intention of the Philippines and France to cooperate in the area of higher education and research through exchange of training programs of recognized higher education institutions, promote students mobility, and facilitate the exchange of faculties, personnel, experts and students.
The Philippines and France also declared intention to protect the environment and sustainable development of marine resources of the Philippines.
The two countries also signed the credit facility agreement for the Cebu Bus Rapid Transport project, which aimed at improving the overall performance of the Urban Passenger Transport System in Metro Cebu.
Other signed agreement is the business and operating agreement of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac-Expressway (SCTEX) between the North Toll Way Corp. and the Bases Conversation and Development Authority.
President Aquino and President Hollande also witnessed the signing of letter of award for the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 1 South Extension Project between the Manila LRT Corporation, Bouygues Travaux Publics, and Alstom Transport.
”Indeed: the enhanced partnership between France and the Philippines has already redounded to great benefits for our people. At the same time, our discussions also covered regional and global issues of mutual concern,” Aquino said.
In line with their resolve to strengthen the economic engagement between the two countries, President Aquino conveyed to President Hollande an invitation for French companies to explore investing in the Philippines, particularly in the aerospace, IT-BPM, renewable energy, and infrastructure sectors.
”Filipino workers have proven themselves to possess the skills, loyalty, and drive necessary to spur any industry to success, and given the economic resurgence that our country has experienced these last few years, there is no more opportune time than today to invest in the Philippines,” Aquino said.
The two leaders also reiterated the importance of maintaining peace and stability in Southeast Asia and promoting maritime security, freedom of navigation and the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law.
Presidents Aquino and Hollande also agreed to intensify the call on the international community to work together in order to fight terrorism in all its forms, as a common scourge to mankind.
”I informed the President of the reforms our country has undertaken to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing,” Aquino told the media during the press conference.
”These expressions of solidarity leave me optimistic about a future of closer ties, heightened cooperation, and enhanced partnership between our two countries: not only in helping each other in times of need, but also in pursuing opportunities that will further our relations; not only in fulfilling our responsibilities to the French and Filipino people, but also in combating the great challenges that our world faces today,” President Aquino said.
President Hollende is in the Philippines for a two-day state visit that also include a visit on Friday in the Eastern Visayas, the most damaged areas by the super typhoon Yolanda or Haiyan in November 2013.
The French leader arrived in Malacanang at 4:50 p.m. and was welcomed by President Aquino at the Malacanang Palace Grounds.
He was given 21-gun salute while the national anthems of the Republic of French and the Philippines are being played.
President Aquino then escorted the visiting leader at the Reception Hall for signing of guest book followed by a traditional conversation at the Music Room.
Foreign relations between the Philippines and France were established as early as 1947.
Hollande is the first incumbent French president to make a state visit to the country.
France is the Philippines’ second largest trading partner in the European Union (EU) with two-way trade amounting to USD 2.39 billion in October 2014, an increase of 24 percent from the same period in 2013.