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Economic relations

Our economic and trading relations with China suffer from a steep imbalance. Even a strong performance by French exports to China in 2011 (an increase of 22% over 2010, to €13.5 billion) was unable to offset soaring imports. As a result, France’s trade deficit with China hit a new record of €27 billion in 2011. Trade figures including Hong Kong substantially improved the bilateral trade position (reducing the deficit to €23 million) but had no impact on the final result: France’s biggest bilateral trade deficit is with China, followed in second place by Germany.

According to Chinese data, France increased its share of the Chinese market slightly in 2011 to around 1.27% (up from 1.23% in 2010), as compared to 5.33% for Germany, 0.85% for the UK and 1.03% for Italy. China is France’s fifth largest supplier (ahead of the United States and United Kingdom) with a 7% overall share of the French market (2010 figures), peaking sharply in the garment and leather sectors to take first place with a 29.3% share of the market, and in electronics (21.9%).

This disparity in our bilateral trade should be no reason, however, to overlook the many successes achieved by French firms in China, and the encouraging prospects held out by new sectors for economic cooperation (environment and sustainable development, financial sector, agrifood production, etc.).

France’s economic and commercial presence in China is underpinned by some 1,400 French firms operating in China. Their strong performance is a valuable contribution to redressing the bilateral economic and trade balance, and could be boosted still further were China to open up more, particularly in terms of allowing greater access to its market (and to public contracts in particular) and of protection of intellectual property, areas in which France is seeking greater reciprocity.

"Large contracts" continue to play an important role in our bilateral economic relations, as witnessed by the successful bids placed by firms such as Airbus and Eurocopter in aviation and by Areva in civil nuclear engineering. Cooperation between France and China in the field of nuclear energy is an excellent example of the long-term industrial partnership built up by the two countries. This partnership was further reinforced in 2010 by the decision of the respective Heads of State to establish a comprehensive partnership covering all stages of the nuclear fuel cycle.

For over 20 years, French industrial groups (Areva, Alstom, EDF) have played a key role in helping China develop its civil nuclear power programme (Daya Bay and Ling Ao nuclear power plants). The construction of two EPR plants in Taishan has added new dimensions to the partnership over time. Our long history of cooperation with China in this field is based on France’s reputation for excellence, in terms of both plant performance and safety, one of the key pillars of nuclear cooperation.

Investment in China by French firms mostly takes the form of joint ventures. In April 2011, Alstom announced the setting up of a new joint venture with Shanghai Electric Company to generate power, adding a new element to its existing alliances with Chinese partners in the land transport sector. A number of other French firms have entered into similar industrial partnerships, including Michelin, Veolia, Citroën and Lafarge. These investments by French firms are an increasingly important element in our economic relations.

Chinese investment in France is still fairly modest but growing rapidly, currently standing at some €700 million and employing close on 9,000 people. France is keen to promote and support the development of Chinese investment in France to create jobs and growth.

Updated on 27.03.13

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