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'We're optimistic about the future?
There are huge potentials in the economic co-operation between China and France and the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China (CCIFC) is ready to strengthen its efforts in promoting economic exchanges between the two countries, said a top chamber leader in Beijing.
"We are very optimistic about the future," said Pierre Barroux, president of CCIFC, whose members have a presence in almost every economic sector of the Chinese market.
He believes that economic co-operation between the two countries could be even more satisfactory, as there are still a wealth of opportunities to explore.
For instance, the trade volume between China and France is still only about one-third of that between China and Germany, though the economic strength of Germany is far from being three times that of France.
According to statistics from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, the trade volume between China and France rose by 38.8 per cent year-on-year in the first half to US$7.86 billion.
Barroux said it means that CCIFC has to become even more efficient in helping French companies do business in China.
Established in 1992, CCIFC has over 700 member companies, which are located in almost all regions and sectors in China.
It has been working closely with the French Trade Commission and local chambers in France to introduce opportunities and the investment environment to French firms and take them on on-site investigations.
The chamber also helps pass the views of French companies to the Chinese authorities in order to strengthen exchanges between the two sides.
According to Barroux, many of CCIFC's member companies said their businesses were very successful in the country and that China has also become a market of strategic importance for quite a few French firms like Airbus, Alstom, and Electricite de France (EDF).
He said the infrastructure sector was a traditional area in which French companies had been successful and will remain a sector of huge opportunity for French firms.
Due to the country's power shortages this year, French power companies such as Alstom and EDF will play a more important role in helping China solve the problem.
In high-speed train projects, where Alstom just won the right to build 60 trains in co-operation with a Chinese partner for 200-kilometre-per-hour railways, the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway may offer huge opportunities for French companies.
Businesses like Veolia and Suez will also seek more opportunities in water treatment and waste management, as China is facing water shortages in many regions and calling for sustainable development.
The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), where Barroux serves as its chief representative in China, is also seeking closer relations with China in Airbus airplane and helicopter businesses.
He believes EADS' strength in security systems can also help the 2008 Olympics Games in Beijing and the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.
Besides the infrastructure sector, French companies are expanding their business activities to consumer and service markets, like supermarket chain Carrefour, hotel group Accor, cosmetics company L'Oreal, and carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen.
Also a boon for French firms is the approved destination status agreement, which allows Chinese tourists to travel to France.
As French President Chirac called for in his national day address last July 14, while many big companies already regard China as a strategic market, small and medium Enterprises (SMEs) should also bring more vitality to bilateral trade, Barroux said.
He said there are already many French SMEs which are very interested in coming to China.
Some SMEs have already followed big companies in establishing a market presence. At the same time, many other companies, which export more than half of their products overseas and have a strong position in their respective fields in the world, would also like to come to China to seek opportunities.
Several French SME delegations visited China in the past months to investigate the possibility of doing business in the country.
French President Jacques Chirac is expected to bring 17 SMEs with him during his visit to China from October 8 to 12.
He also expected the number of French SMEs doing business in China to double in the next three years to 7,000.
In spite of the opportunities and fast development of bilateral economic co-operation, Barroux said there are still French firms who have concerns about investing and doing business in China.
As causes of concern he cited government regulations and intellectual property right protection.
He added that after China's accession into the World Trade Organization, the country has sped up its regulatory work, but some regulations may have negative impacts on French companies.
However, he believed that with more exchanges between the two sides, those impacts will be eliminated or reduced.
He said business culture and practice are two difficulties that French companies may come across in their development in China, but CCIFC will help them adapt to the market as smoothly as possible.