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French foreign trade/2010

Published on February 11, 2011
French trade in 2010 – Interview given by Pierre Lellouche, Minister of State responsible for Foreign Trade, to the “Le Figaro” newspaper

Paris, February 8, 2011

Q. – What are the major trends in foreign trade in 2010?

THE MINISTER – The good news lies in the fact that our exports went up 13.5%, i.e. at an identical rate to world trade growth in 2010. This amounts to around 47 billion more exports out of a total of nearly 392.5 billion, equivalent to 120,000 jobs created or safeguarded in 2011.
From this point of view, foreign trade is key to our economic and social stability. President Sarkozy’s personal commitment during his visits abroad allowed an almost 40% increase in sales of major contracts last year. These are worth over €20 billion. Conversely, we’re still very dependent on our energy bill, which comes to €48 billion and is virtually identical to our trade deficit. This reached €51 billion last year. Foreign trade will have stimulated our 2010 growth by 0.2%. This is good, but very inadequate compared to Germany’s €126 billion surplus, which is expanding her GDP by 1.1%.

Q. – The energy bill doesn’t explain everything…

THE MINISTER – No, since our deficit excluding energy comes to €20 billion for last year, level with 2009 (€19.5 billion). We’ve got several structural problems. The first is that only three sectors are showing a trade surplus: aerospace (up €18.1 billion), thanks to 285 Airbus deliveries in 2010, then the agri-foodstuffs and pharmaceutical industries. On the other hand, we’re showing serious deficits in the capital goods, industrial goods and automotive sectors – despite the imbalance being slightly reduced in this sector last year. Second weak point: even though we’ve considerably improved our trade with the emerging countries – last year trade went up 40% with Brazil and China, and 24% with Russia – our presence is inadequate in those countries, especially compared to our German competitor. Our market share in the emerging countries is four times less than that of the Germans. Third weak point: the lack of exporters.

Q. – What can we do to remedy it?

THE MINISTER – The diagnosis is well known: France has only 90,000 exporting SMEs, four times fewer than the Germans. And only 54,000 of them export regularly. What’s more, 70% of French SMEs have fewer than 20 employees, which prevents them from making long-term investments in exports. So strengthening our export companies must become a national priority, which means building the fabric of our industrial SMEs. If France has no presence in the emerging countries and doesn’t learn to export her products there, it’s tantamount to building up deficits and handing the keys to our foreign creditors.

Q. – How can we help them export?

THE MINISTER – We must put an end to the Gallic mindset and parochial rivalries that characterize our public support to exporters. We must make UBIFRANCE (1), foreign trade advisers, chambers of commerce and regions work better together. The State will set the example, because we’re going to increase profit-sharing plans for Ubifrance’s advisers and set them targets in terms of export contracts signed by French SMEs, to encourage them to become real salesmen. The same goes for trade advisers and, in a general sense, our ambassadors: we have an exceptional diplomatic corps, but it must make commercial challenges an absolute priority. Foreign trade is the new front line of national independence.

Q. – How, in practical terms, can we develop that state of mind?

THE MINISTER – It’s not impossible. For example, the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region offers a unique service: an export centre that brings all the players together to serve companies wishing to go into the export business. I’d like the other regions to do the same, and we’ll try to develop three by the summer and then introduce the system across the board. I also want to increase the number of Volontaires internationaux en entreprises (VIE) [International Volunteers in Business] and above all extend the benefits of this system to less qualified young people. Finally, we’re going to stake a lot on agri-foodstuffs and launch a vast communication campaign in the 170 agri-foodstuffs fairs and trade operations around the world this year, to make it our export flagship; the culmination will be the world gastronomy festival, around 14 July. So big companies must join this burst of national economic patriotism and do more to put our SMEs on the international stage, as the big German groups do./.

(1) French agency for international business development.

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