The French connection.

Author:Sutter, Mary
Position:THE SCENE

Germany may overshadow France as the European export powerhouse to Latin America and the world, but the Paris government has revved up its efforts to boost commercial ties with the region.

"There is a new focus of French companies outside Europe," said Anne-Marie Idrac, France's secretary of state for foreign trade, in an interview with Latin Trade during a recent visit to Miami. As the government encourages geographic diversification in trade and investment, France's corporations have been exploring more opportunities in emerging market countries like China, India and Latin America--especially Brazil, said Idrac.

"Brazil is a strategic partner," Idrac said. "We have twice as much invested [there] as we have in China."

Idrac has also done her part. She made visits to Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Colombia and Peru last year.

But as Idrac logs miles traveling to the region, French President Nicholas Sarkozy's government is opposing a proposed trade accord between the European Union and the countries of Mercosur: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Many French companies already have close links in those four nations. Among France's top 40 publicly traded companies, 35 have subsidiaries in Brazil. In total more than 400 French companies have operations in Brazil and collectively employ more than 400,000 in the South American country, according to French government data.

Part of the strategy is connecting France's advanced technology, such as in aerospace, with similar sectors in the region. Brazil's expanding aerospace sector and the more recent developments in aerospace in Mexico present important areas of opportunity for French companies, Idrac said. "There is more and more domestic investment, transfer of technology [and] training," she said, citing companies like EADS, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., and Safran, a manufacturer of aircraft and communications equipment.

Idrac said Sarkozy and his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, have developed a special relationship. "There are many opportunities to develop commercial and political links," she said.

Most recently, Sarkozy has backed Lula's role as a mediator in nuclear talks with Iran, which recently resulted in an announcement that Iran would exchange with Turkey low-enriched uranium for higher-grade uranium.

With Brazil mulling a $6 billion purchase of fighter jets, Sarkozy is reported to be lobbying hard on behalf of French manufacturer Dassault...

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