Upon his return from the G7 in Hiroshima, President Emmanuel Macron made a stopover in the Mongolian capital, at the invitation of the Mongolian president. This is the first time a French president has been received in Ulaanbaatar. This visit is part of France’s desire to have a stronger presence in the Indo-Pacific region. Mongolia, located on the border of this zone and sandwiched between Russia and China, is also seeking more attention from Europeans. For Mongolian President Ukhnaa Khurelsukh, Emmanuel Macron’s visit is an opportunity to seek new partnerships in Europe and limit the influence of the two neighbors.
Until now, French interests in Mongolia have been limited, although French exports (mainly in the agri-food and luxury sectors) have doubled since 2013. However, Mongolia has gained strategic importance since France and Europe launched re-industrialization policies. It is necessary for Paris to secure its supplies of metals and rare earths, and Mongolia is among the largest producers of copper, gold, rare earths, and uranium. The French company Orano is already present in Mongolia, where a pilot uranium extraction project has been conducted since 2021 by Orano’s subsidiary, Badrakh, at the Zuuvch Ovoo site.
Foreign groups, including Chinese, Russian, Australian, and South Korean companies, are heavily involved in the extraction sector in Mongolia. This visit is therefore related to Paris’s intention to diversify its mineral supplies, particularly following the announcement in May 2023 of a new investment fund dedicated to rare earths.
France also aims to encourage the ongoing democratic process in Mongolia. Since its peaceful revolution in 1990, Mongolia has respected democratic principles and experienced a certain political stability. It is important for France and Europe to anchor Mongolia in this dynamic and promote exchanges.
The issue of the war in Ukraine was certainly addressed during this meeting. Mongolia has not clearly denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as its room for maneuver is limited. However, the country is greatly affected by the war in Ukraine, especially as it is a landlocked country. Over a quarter of Mongolia’s imports come from its Russian neighbor, and the country is also dependent on Russian energy. It is expected to soon give its approval for the construction of a Russo-Chinese pipeline on its territory. In their joint declaration, the Mongolian president expressed concern about the situation of civilians in Ukraine.
The rapid development experienced by Mongolia is primarily due to the mining sector, including coal extraction, which has significantly degraded its environment. France and Mongolia are working together to preserve the environment through the “One Billion Trees” program launched by President Ukhnaa Khurelsukh.
The growing Mongolian middle class also requires new infrastructure, both in housing and transportation. In Ulaanbaatar, the French company Poma is constructing a cable transport project, partially funded by France.
New business opportunities
The ongoing development in Mongolia creates new opportunities in sectors such as agriculture, agri-food, health, and tourism. President Macron’s visit is expected to establish new cooperation between France and Mongolia.
In October 2023, for the first time in France, the first exhibition dedicated to Genghis Khan will be held in Nantes. This presents an opportunity to deepen relations between the two countries.
The joint declaration of France and Mongolia can be found here.