Event report

Cocktail de la rentrée

An article by Français à Londres

On 14 September, we organised our first Cocktail after 18 months of interruption.

As both sides of the English Channel continue to reel from Brexit in the unstable context of Covid-19, naysayers may be tempted to say that Franco-British relations have reached at an all-time low. This is, however, without counting on the contagious enthusiasm of Paul Drechsler, CBE and Chairman of the UK International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

Addressing a crowd of members that were all but too eager to reconnect with their peers after 18 long months of virtual networking, Drechsler gave a speech at the much-awaited Cocktail de la Rentrée, held on Tuesday 14 September at The Pier Bar & Lounge in London and sponsored by Hogan Lovells.

“We have many reasons to celebrate,” he said. “After nearly two years of looking at holograms, it’s fantastic to be with real people. The role of the French Chamber has probably never been more important, so I’m truly delighted to be here this evening.”

Drechsler went on to give a brief overview of Franco-British political and business relationships. Although some would be tempted to describe these as “not good” these days, both countries share far more common ground that public perception would have us believe.

“We both share large international networks with common legal infrastructure and deep relationships,” he said. “What we do has huge potential to deliver far-reaching benefits across the Commonwealth and the Francophonie, and beyond.”

Both countries also share strong foundations in security and defence. Their mutual interests and values are reflected through their collaboration in the United Nations Security Council, on matters such as the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) and the fight against Isis.

Perhaps more trivially, it’s also worth remembering that 45% of words in English are rooted in French. “In life, in business and in politics, relationships matter; and we, in France and Britain, have them in abundance in our personal lives and in business,” said Drechsler. “That’s one reason why I’m optimistic about the future of French-British trade.”

The ICC was established in 1919 with the motto: “world peace through world trade”, the ICC Chairman continued. Although at the time of its creation, the ICC was at the forefront of creating the international trading system as we know it, the challenges it faces today are equally meaningful.

“Post-World-War-I, the world was a different place, but in the context of conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere, and with the lockdown of the global economy during Covid-19, our original vision and mission couldn’t be more relevant,” he said. “Today, we campaign for a more inclusive, sustainable and green trading system.”

Building back better

Business has a key role to play not only for the economic recovery of both France and the UK, but also in tackling global challenges in the aftermath of Covid-19, Drechsler further suggested.

“I passionately believe that business is a force for good and that the voice of business leaders really matters,” he said. “In such a complex and fractious political environment, there has never been a better time for them to speak up and take action. Because if we don’t do it now, when will we actually?”

Ongoing international trade goals for the ICC include championing open exchanges, reducing cost and red tape, and promoting a level playing field with common rules and standards. But one overarching challenge binds all countries together and will require, now more than ever, more cohesion as opposed to division. That challenge is climate change.

“In the current climate, the more we cooperate and work together, the more benefit and value will be delivered to our respective member companies, and the stronger our collective voice will be,” said Drechsler. “We are all part of the same Chamber family, each with an important role to play.”

Across the ICC network, the Franco-British bilateral chamber remains one of the closest relationships to date. “We are now even more bound together – France and Britain are bound at the hip on climate change, and should share its opportunities as well as its consequences,” the ICC Chairman continued. “As we come to COP26, we should not backtrack on the Paris Accord – we should build and develop from it.”

Reflecting upon the past year and a half, he concluded: “Covid-19 has dominated our lives and has reminded us of the astonishing power of industry, university and government collaboration. As I stand here tonight, I would say that one of our main priorities is to accelerate the delivery of vaccines across the world to all nations – including in the developing world. Until we all get them, we won’t be fully free.”

While the economic benefit of vaccinating the whole world rapidly would be immense, the effect of not doing so, instead, could be devastating.

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