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French connection: Trade U-turn as Govt goes back to 'bricks-and-mortar'

Business

South Australia's new trade office opened in Paris overnight, headed up by a former Economic Development Board member who previously resigned from the Qantas board over an alleged Italian corruption scandal.

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Premier Jay Weatherill officially opened the office overnight, Australian time, making SA “the first state in Australia to establish a permanent presence in France”.

It will be overseen by Corinne Namblard, South Australia’s existing representative in France.

Namblard was a relative newcomer to corporate Australia before her 2011 appointment to the Qantas board, but she was embroiled in controversy when she resigned in 2013 amid Italian court proceedings over an earlier deal to privatise and expand an airport in Tuscany.

Prosecutors reportedly alleged improper dealings between Namblard’s Luxembourg-based Galaxy Fund and the Siena airport’s controlling shareholder, Tuscan bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena.

Qantas said at the time Namblard “strenuously denies any wrongdoing” and her resignation was offered “to ensure that the continuing media focus on the current Italian proceedings did not distract Qantas from implementing its strategic imperatives”.

She has since reportedly dismissed the accusations as “politically driven and played up by media in Australia”, noting “the official notice of statute of limitations definitely clears the situation”.

Weatherill’s office told InDaily her appointment followed “an extensive global search” and that the Paris resident “has lived in SA and has an extensive knowledge of both the South Australian and French business environments”.

Jay Weatherill opening the Paris office overnight. Photo: Supplied

The establishment of the office is set to build on recent business ties to France, with Naval Group (formerly DCNS) last month establishing its own Australian headquarters in Keswick as it gears up for design and construction work on the lucrative Future Submarines project.

Namblard will be supported by the Office of the Agent-General in London and the Adelaide-based French Engagement Strategy team.

The opening of the office honours a commitment made by Weatherill after DCNS was awarded the submarine contract.

But the move is at odds with the trade strategy employed by his Government in recent years, which has seen the state close several international offices.

Trade Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith told InDaily in 2015 the “old model” of maintaining “bricks-and-mortar” offices in international centres “was not performing [and was] far more expensive than our current approach” of embedding dedicated staff within established Austrade offices.

“I can’t justify establishing a standalone office to the taxpayers if I know that we can deliver better services leveraging off of Austrade’s capability,” Hamilton-Smith said at the time.

Liberal leader Steven Marshall announced in May he would invest $12.8 million opening four new international trade offices in Japan, Malaysia, Dubai and the US if elected in March 2018.

Weatherill said in a statement the Paris office “demonstrates the scale of our ambition and just how much France means to us”.

“The office will have a range of tasks, but fundamentally its role will be to generate and support two-way trade and investment, to raise our profile in France and to strengthen cultural ties,” he said.

Namblard’s web-page says she has of late been “leading the Infrastructure Taskforce and advising the Premier of SA on the opportunity to integrate potential economic benefits of regional infrastructure development when considering a new deep seaport dedicated to mineral ressources [sic] and agriculture exports”.

The launch was also attended by Australia’s Ambassador to France Stephen Brady and France’s Ambassador to Australia Christophe Penot.

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