Hollande visits China on sales mission

French President François Hollande arrived in Beijing early on Thursday morning, kicking off a two-day visit aimed at boosting exports to China, and in the hope that the two countries can reach deals on aircraft sales and nuclear power.

Hollande visits China on sales mission
French President François Hollande and his partner, French First Lady Valerie Trierweiler, are greeted in Beijing, China on April 25th. Mark Ralston/AFP

Hollande, who is the first Western leader to be received in the Chinese capital by new President Xi Jinping, is accompanied by a planeload of businessmen hoping to increase their share of the fruits of China's economic growth.

And it did not take him long to work his magic with AFP reporting that a no sooner had Hollande stepped off the plane that a deal was signed that will see China buy 60 French Airbus planes.

France accounts for just 1.3 percent of China's foreign trade compared with around 5 percent for Germany, and a trade deficit with China of €26 billion last year is seen in Paris as unsustainable.

But reversing this will not be easy for a country that lacks Germany's strength in the production of capital goods or export-driven business culture.

Aides to Hollande believe the Chinese yuan is seriously undervalued and expect the issue to be raised during his two-day visit, albeit without much hope of significant progress.

In industrial terms, France's highest-value cards are its share in the planemaker Airbus and its nuclear expertise, and officials anticipate Hollande's visit will bring progress on both fronts.

Hopes are high that French nuclear giant Areva and the Chinese energy group CNNC will sign letters of intent on the construction of a nuclear waste treatment facility, while Airbus is hoping to tie down some orders from Chinese airlines.

Carmaker Renault hopes to progress negotiations on a proposed factory at Wuhan that would produce 150,000 vehicles per year.

France is also pushing for greater access to the Chinese market for its charcuterie, or cooked pork meat, producers.

Hollande touched down down in Beijing around 9:50am (2:50am French time) on Thursday, an AFP photographer said.

The French president is expected to have three meetings with Xi, including a state banquet on Thursday and a more intimate lunch on Friday along with their respective partners, Valerie Trierweiler and Peng Liyuan.

For Hollande, beset by economic woes and the aftermath of a corruption scandal that forced his budget minister to resign, the trip is a break from domestic troubles.

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France blocks trade talks with the US, angering EU partners

France is blocking the launch of trade talks with the US, exasperating its EU partners who fear a restart to a trade war with President Donald Trump, diplomats said on Friday.

France blocks trade talks with the US, angering EU partners
Diplomats fear a resumption of trade wars between Europe and the US. Photo: AFP

“The French are blocking, but they are isolated,” a European source told AFP after a Friday meeting of envoys from member states ended without an agreement.

The envoys are struggling to decide a mandate to launch the transatlantic negotiations given the opposition of Paris that fears domestic blowback just months ahead of European elections, set for May 22 to 26.



Berlin however strongly wants the deal in order to placate Trump and avoid US auto tariffs that would punish Germany's cherished exports, a prospect Chancellor Angela Merkel has labelled “frightening”.

Pursuing a limited trade deal was the central part of a truce agreed in July when Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pledged no new tariffs following those on steel and aluminium.

“France is really testing the patience of the other member states to the limit,” an EU diplomat said, on condition of anonymity.

“It's quite daring to block something that everyone else wants,” the diplomat added. Talks were set to resume on Wednesday.

At Friday's meeting, French diplomats called for more time to discuss differences while the Germans argued that “waiting weakens the negotiating ability of Europeans”, the source said.

Paris is especially wary after the failure of talks on TTIP, a far more ambitious transatlantic trade plan, which stalled amid fears a deal with Washington would undermine EU food and health standards.

As a condition French President Emmanuel Macron last week demanded a clear signal that TTIP is obsolete, though some member states would like the option to revive those talks to survive.

France is also insisting on environmental guarantees if the trade negotiations take place, diplomats said.

But diplomats added that Macron had stepped back from calling for Washington's adherence to the Paris climate accord, which Trump pulled out of  in 2017.