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Global Carolina Profile: French Ambassador Pierre Vimont

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CHARLOTTE, NC – The Charlotte region’s reputation as a hub of international commerce was further enhanced with the recent visit by France’s ambassador to the United States, Pierre Vimont. At a luncheon co-sponsored by the Charlotte World Affairs Council and French energy giant Areva NP Inc. – and co-hosted by the French-American Chamber of Commerce of North Carolina and the Alliance Française of Charlotte – French Ambassador Pierre Vimont delivered a speech on the importance of strengthening business, political and cultural relations between the United States and the European Union.

Vimont notably outlined a number of major opportunities where close cooperation between the U.S. and the EU can generate solutions to the economic challenges of the 21st century. He also suggested ways the U.S. and Europe can retain their lead in the global economy, which has become increasingly competitive with the rise of new economic powerhouses such as China, India, and Brazil.

Common Challenges, Common Interests
Vimont was quick to acknowledge the myriad challenges facing the United States and Europe. His speech touched on the rise of militant Islam as well as on related issues concerning disadvantaged and/or unassimilated Islamic populations in both Western Europe and the U.S. Vimont also addressed the political situation in the war-plagued regions of the Middle East and Afghanistan, and illuminated the unique economic challenges created by these ongoing conflicts as well as by the new economic realities of the ‘Great Recession.’

Despite these challenges – and despite conflicting opinions regarding how each challenge should be met – Vimont emphasized that the United States and the EU have multiple common interests that can be use as a foundation for mutual and sustained economic growth.

Vimont pointed to a number of examples where the United States and the EU are already working hand in hand, notably in the cultural, political and economic arenas. The current U.S. administration and representatives from Europe have addressed issues such as the integration of Islamic populations into our respective societies, and made strides toward enhanced cooperation between Western and Islamic nations. Meanwhile, the EU has stood beside the U.S. in Afghanistan, providing approximately 30 percent of the total troops currently serving in that conflict. Finally, in the economic arena, groups such as the G20 have worked hard to find solutions to our many global economic problems. France will hold the G20 presidency in 2011.

The French Connection

Of course, Charlotte already maintains numerous close ties with France. The growing city, which boasts daily nonstop flights to and from Paris through Charlotte Douglas International Airport, is home to honorary French Consul Millie Cox as well as 60 French-owned firms, including eight U.S. headquarters. Michelin Aircraft Tire Co., Turbomeca Manufacturing, Dassault Systèmes, and AREVA NP all have a powerful presence in the Queen City, and local economic development groups such as the Charlotte Regional Partnership continue to recruit expanding French and European businesses, particularly those interested in setting up shop in the U.S. for the first time.

New Energies, New Economies
One area where growth is already in full swing is in the move to make the Charlotte region a hub for the energy industry. A coordinated effort by governments, economic development groups, universities and private enterprise has opened up numerous opportunities for cooperation with France, the world leader in nuclear power. With six new nuclear plants currently in the works across the Carolinas, energy companies are now looking to both local and overseas suppliers to fill their needs at the new sites.

Charlotte and France are also focusing their collective energies with impressive results in the nuclear fusion project known as ITER. Latin for “way” or “journey,” ITER is a large-scale scientific experiment aimed at demonstrating the feasibility of producing commercial energy from fusion. The ITER partners – the U.S., the EU, China, India, Japan, Russia and South Korea – are currently collaborating on the world’s largest experimental fusion reactor, to be built in southeast France.

In January of this year, Charlotte-based AREVA Federal Services LLC was awarded a basic ordering agreement for design and fabrication of the Tokamak Cooling Water System. The cooling system is critical to ITER’s success and represents a major U.S. contribution to the international fusion project. AREVA will oversee and integrate industry work on components via task orders and subcontracts.

This project represents an excellent model for the type of cooperation necessary for economic recovery here and abroad. However, Vimont also stressed that, despite the ongoing efforts of both the U.S. and Europe, even more cooperation will be necessary for the two leading Western powers are to maintain their longstanding economic dominance.

Old Alliances, Emerging Powers
A dramatic upswing in workforce investments in North America and Europe is already underway, according to the findings of a major new IBM study of over 700 chief human resource officers and senior executives from 61 countries and 31 industries worldwide. Still, despite these promising trends, Vimont insisted that a close, continued alliance between the United States and the EU is needed to ensure competitiveness in the future.

Vimont concluded his speech by reminding us of our past alliances. The United States and Europe forged strategic military and economic alliances after World War II, leading to the economic boom years of the 1950s. Now our countries are working in unison to take the lead in new technologies not just in the renewable energy sector but in medical devices, personal and national security and elsewhere. According to Vimont, only if we ensure that our common interests guide our approach to the cultural, political and economic challenges facing the United States and the EU can we hope overcome our challenges, preserve and build on our strengths and retain our positions as the world's top economic powers.

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