Q. – The trade deficit is declining, essentially thanks to the fall in our energy bill. If you exclude oil, the deficit has actually increased. Is France’s trade strategy ambitious enough in terms of coordinating its government action more effectively at international level?
THE MINISTER – France’s place in global economic trade must be taken as a whole. In fact, our country also has a large trade surplus in the service sector (€16 billion in 2014) and in international business (€20 billion). So those two areas counterbalance two-thirds of the goods trade deficit! Regarding the trade balance, we’ve decided on a strategy that addresses our structural weaknesses; it’s very ambitious! We must establish a more deep-seated international instinct in our country; to that end, government action must make life easier for entrepreneurs ready to move into exports. Until recently, many of those involved did their own thing and the French system was ultimately hard to understand. The merger of the Invest in France Agency and Ubifrance, which culminated on 1 January with the launch of Business France, is a decisive step towards achieving greater transparency and effectiveness.
I know members of Parliament are very involved in these issues, which are crucial to France’s future. That’s why, every year, I’ll present to Parliament the broad lines of our trade strategy, so that it can be debated with the nation’s elected representatives. That debate must enable us to better coordinate initiatives by elected representatives and the government, so as to be more effective.
Q. – How do you explain the fact that our businesses – and particularly our SMEs – don’t have that “international instinct”?
THE MINISTER – What our businesses can do today, for example in the areas of energy, agrifood and aerospace, I’d like us to do with our SMEs and mid-caps in other sectors (tourism, creative and cultural industries). France has many assets that are insufficiently appreciated. That’s the priority of my work in government. Our 1,000 leading exporters account for 70% of France’s total exports. We have only 121,000 export businesses, while Italy has twice and Germany three times as many.
Moreover, of every 10 first-time exporters, only three are left after one year, and only one continues to export after three years. That’s why my goal is to enable our SMEs and mid-caps to set themselves up as exporters in the long term.
Next month I’ll be launching the first major SME international forum, at the Quai d’Orsay. This forum, intended to be followed by others in the regions, will be held on 11 March. It’s aimed at business leaders, presenting them with a mechanism geared to them and designed for them, to support them throughout their international journeys. This major event is aimed at meeting, in practical terms, the need to raise awareness among our SMEs and spur them into action. Between now and then – but it’s a job for the long haul – I’ll be continuing my “Tour de France” of SMEs to meet them on the ground and find out about their hopes and successes, but also their failures and difficulties.
Q. – In your opinion, major groups and SMEs must “hunt in packs”…
THE MINISTER – You need consistency in government policy. That’s even truer when it comes to supporting economic players, particularly SMEs. That’s why, as soon as I was appointed to work alongside Laurent Fabius, I chose to continue the strategy put in place by Nicole Bricq and Fleur Pellerin, to concentrate our action on the most promising sectors. The idea is simple: to respond to demand from the middle classes in the emerging countries, who are developing and moving upmarket. To that end, six “priority export families” have been created (sustainable cities, health, new technologies, agrifood, cultural and creative industries, and tourism) whose goal is to offer businesses the chance to join forces to tackle international projects comprehensively, by means of coherent, high-performance packages. (…)./.