French companies aim to solidify footprint in the Pacific

French Ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga and Tuvalu, François-Xavier Léger (Photo: France in Fiji/Facebook)

Through banking, renewable energy and water security — French companies are looking to solidify their footprint in Fiji and the Pacific region through its ‘Make it Iconic’ campaign. 

The campaign aims to promote the French state of mind and encourage investors and talent from all over the world to set up in France or to work with France.

Speaking at a breakfast event in Suva yesterday, French Ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga and Tuvalu, François-Xavier Léger said major French companies have been in the Pacific for years and are very active in their respective fields.

There are currently 10 French companies based in Fiji. They include: BRED Bank, Total Energies, Pacific Energy, Suez, French Pacific Trade, New Caledonia Trade & Invest, Vergnet, Kopac, Down to Earth, and Soleya.

“Most of these companies are part of the daily lives of most Fijian [communities]. For example, Suez, is partnering with the Water Authority of Fiji to treat water and make it drinkable for customers. Total Energies and Pacific Energy assists a lot of Fijian customers when they have to fill their tanks on their way to Nadi and elsewhere. Also, a lot of customers are joining BRED Bank due to the quality of their service. They are contributing to the economic growth here in Fiji,” said Ambassador Léger.

BRED expands

BRED Bank Fiji Chief Executive, Thierry Charras-Gillot, said the French bank has seven branches in Fiji and opened its newest branch in Labasa last week. “It (Labasa launch) was a great success. In 2024, I would like to open another new branch. I just need to find the right location,” he said.

He added: “It’s good to see some banks are opening new branches when other banks are downsizing or closing their branches”.

The CEO noted the Bank has around 40,000 retail customers and 1700 commercial clients in Fiji.

“At the end of October, our market share [in Fiji] was 15.26%. It’s still growing,” he said.

The BRED Group has a presence in New Caledonia through its subsidiary, Banque Calédonienne d’Investissement. “We are also in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. And we have shares in Socredo, the first bank in Tahiti. “So I think we already have a good footprint in the South Pacific,” he added.

(L-R) BRED Bank Fiji’s Thierry Charras-Gillot and Total Energies’ Dennis Michael Cuaycong

Energy sector investment

Renewable energy initiatives are in the works for French fuel companies in the region. Pacific Energy Fiji Retail Manager, Avinesh Sharma, says thecompany acquired shares in solar energy last year and “we’ve got a project coming up in relation to one of the service stations”. There are currently 27 Pacific Energy service stations in Fiji, Sharma said. “EV cars are coming up, and our facilities are almost ready. We’re trying to be more proactive in that sense,” he added.

Meanwhile, the rebrand of Total Energies is “definitely something that is related to our new climate ambition where we try to focus really on energy as a more broad base and not just oil based,” said Total Energies Managing Director & Fiji Country Chair, Dennis Michael Cuaycong. The company has been operating in Fiji since 2006. “We are currently rebuilding our Namaka station in Nadi, and that will be finished sometime in January, which will become our next flagship station with a new rollover wash unit with an EV charging unit as well,” said Cuaycong.

“We are very hopeful of opportunities in the renewable sector, so we are actively pursuing opportunities and projects in that space, particularly on solar. “I also handle our operations over in Tonga, and [renewable energy initiatives there] will be driven by the opportunity that is available in the market, so we are always keeping ourselves abreast on what the ambitions of the market is in terms of sustainability,” said Cuaycong.

Water

Meanwhile, Suez, a French-based utility company, has been largely working in the water sector for more than 100 years. “Desalination is one of the areas we specialise in,” said Suez Pacific General Manager, Marc Mocellin. “In the Pacific, we have about 200 [project] references on desalination. “We started our business in Fiji about eight years ago after winning an international tender to provide two water treatment plants for the Water Authority of Fiji. And today, we’ve built 11 water treatment plants in Fiji. Some for WAF and some for our industrial clients,” said Mocellin.

“We have also done a few desalination projects. From Fiji, we sent our team from Fiji to Tuvalu. We’ve done about 10 projects over there. And we have more than 20 projects to be implemented in Kiribati. I’m going to Kiribati next week for this project,” said Mocellin.

In reference to recent droughts, Mocellin added: “The water situation in those countries are, I would say, better now, but they were desperate, honestly.”

“We quite often say water is life, and this is absolutely true for those countries where they have a flat island, no mountains, no river. So, they just rely on harvesting rain. But when there’s no rain, the only possibility is desalination. So, hopefully, those projects will help them.

Mocellin also took part in discussions on the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent at the recent Pacific Resilience Meeting, he said: “I think it’s a good move for the future. I think that the stakeholders are realising the challenges, and they have a vision of what to do for the future. I don’t say it will be easy. It will be difficult because the need for infrastructure is very high. And when you need infrastructure, it’s costly. So it’s a long-term battle, I would say. But the vision is there. So if there’s commitment from stakeholders, it will be for the benefit of their population and the Pacific [as a whole].”

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