France Woos China With More Than Cheese and Wine
France may be facing declining growth and competitiveness in the euro zone, but the country is hoping to capitalize on strong demand in China for its 'nouveau-riche' products.
On the first day of a two-day trade mission to China, President Francois Hollande secured deals for the country's nuclear sector and an order for 60 Airbus planes.
"The three emblematic items that France sells on the big market are jets, nuclear power plants and bullet trains.France has a real objective in selling these to the international market because the government is so far in debt, it can't make those conventional purchases…China has the reserves, and Europe is bankrupt," Douglas Yates, assistant professor of political science at the American University of Paris, told CNBC.
Chinese consumers have already been big buyers of French luxury products, wines and cheeses in recent years.
"The French culture is something that exports well, Chinese consumers who are nouveau-riche want to do displays of conspicuous consumption," Yates said.
"A lot of people think that France is in a crisis, and it is, but France also has a lot of competitive advantages with some of the other developed countries. [There are a lot of luxury goods] that the Chinese are interested in consuming."
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Champagne sales in China have grown at an annual rate of 33 percent and according to the China Economic Review, the amount of cheese imported from France has increased 340 percent over the last five years.
The attempt to woo Chinese business is part of an orchestrated move by the French government. Finance minister Pierre Moscovici made a two-day business trip to China in January. France accounts for just 1.3 percent of China's foreign trade compared with around five percent for Germany.
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On Thursday, President Hollande said that France's trade deficit with China of $34 billion last year was not sustainable.
"How shall we resolve that current trade deficit imbalance,with trade protectionism like some people advocate? Our answer is definitely 'no', instead we should continue to develop our trade exchanges built on the principle of reciprocity," Hollande said.
France is also hoping that the demand for its products will translate into more investments by China in the French economy.
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"China needs a France that has a healthy economy, it has a trade deficit and that means it's got a good customer. But one of the major advantages of France is that it's open to Chinese investment. China has to recycle a trillion dollars' worth of foreign exchange reserves… France is open,unlike the U.S. which has a lot of laws that prevent the Chinese from purchasing companies," Yates said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Thursday that the French can expect more Chinese business if it can influence the European Union in easing trade limits. "One cannot make great steps forward with hands and feet bound," Xi said.
-By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter