French trade deficit widens to 20-month high

France's trade deficit shot up €1.3 billion last month to hit a 20-month high.

French trade deficit widens to 20-month high
Photo: AFP

France's trade deficit widened in February to a 20-month high of €5.2 billion ($5.6 bn), up €1.3 billion on the previous month, driven by higher auto and aerospace imports, the customs office said on Thursday.

“Exports edged down (off 0.2 percent after a a 0.5 percent January rise) while imports rose,” by 2.8 percent after a 0.6-percent January increase, the office of eurozone's second largest economy said.

The trade deficit helped to expand the current-account deficit to €3.9 billion in February from a revised #2.2 billion in January, the French central bank said, while noting export performance had been “particularly strong” in January.

The latest data show direct foreign investment in France, at €4.4 billion, topped French investment abroad of #1.7 billion in February.

The current account balance is a useful indicator of economic performance in going beyond mere exchange of goods, France having run a trade deficit consistently over the past decade.

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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.