- Prime Minister of Mauritius, Navin Ramgoolam, is on a three-day official visit to France, hoping to gain support for his island's special situation as the European Union (EU) is reforming its trade policies on sugar and textiles, two main export articles. Mr Ramgoolam heads a large delegation which is to meet French President Jacques Chirac, ministers and business leaders.
The Mauritian Prime Minister arrived in Paris this morning and has already held talks with France's President Chirac and meetings with four French ministers, including Finance Minister Thierry Breton. Neither French nor Mauritian official have commented on the outcome of these talks, which are seen as essential for the Indian Ocean island's economic ties with Europe.
On his first official visit to France, Mr Ramgoolam faces a tough agenda. According to the French Foreign Ministry, this includes "evoking on bilateral cooperation and the cooperation between Mauritius and the European Union, which also is the occasion for France to show the support it aims giving Mauritius regarding the re-organisation of its economy."
Economic ties with the EU and a Mauritian hope that Paris will stick to its promise defending Mauritian interests in Brussels is the basic issue. For Mauritius, the stakes are high. The small but wealthy island nation faces a multi-faceted economic crisis with two of its main export goods being threatened by EU trade reforms; sugar and textiles. Further, Mauritius depends on costly energy imports that also are affected by EU reforms.
Before leaving Mauritius yesterday evening, Prime Minister Ramgoolam admitted that these EU reforms "related to the economy and globalisation" were creating many new "challenges" for Mauritius. The island was heavily affected by the worldwide liberation of the trade in textiles, seeing its quotas to Europe cut and China taking over most its markets. Mauritian unions estimate that some 20,000 jobs have been lost in the sector during the last four years.
The Mauritian government further lost a diplomatic battle with the EU last year as Europeans opted to reform its sugar industry and imports. In three months, the reform will take place and result in drastic price cuts, meaning less export revenues or an inability to compete on the European market for Mauritian sugar producers.
Mauritius had gained most support from France when protesting these reforms. Prime Minister Ramgoolam therefore noted that there was still hope regarding the sugar reform. "Mauritius and France enjoy privileged relations ... and France is the only European country which has agreed to do all that is possible to help Mauritius with the sugar reform at the level of the EU," the PM was quoted by the Mauritian government's website as saying before heading for France.
To achieve this great aim, Mr Ramgoolam has brought a large team to France. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Rama Sithanen, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Cooperation, Madun Dulloo, together with a delegation of local businessmen are accompanying the Mauritian Prime Minister.
"The Mauritian delegation will have working sessions with a number of French ministers and officials, to talk about issues relating to territorial security, the problems encountered by the Small Islands Developing States and cooperation partnerships between Mauritian and French businessmen," according to the Mauritian government. France further plans to bring up Mauritius' presidency of the Indian Ocean Commission (CIO) in 2006 during the talks, Paris informs.
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