France's Trade Gap at Record US$92b on Higher Energy


FRANCE'S trade deficit hit a record high of just shy of 70 billion euros (US$92 billion) in 2011 as sharply rising energy import costs and lower export growth combined to underline the country's struggle to keep competitive globally.

Farm produce and luxury goods such as handbags and perfume were the exceptions, France's customs office said yesterday, in a dismal year for exports that contrasted sharply with bumper returns in Germany.

It said there was a deficit of 69.6 billion euros, at the lower end of government forecasts but still 35 percent higher than in 2010.

In Germany, the main engine of European growth and a global exporting superpower, data today may show a trade surplus of around 156 billion euros in 2011.

The imbalance has become an issue in France's presidential campaign, with President Nicolas Sarkozy blaming a relatively higher cost of labor.

France's figures, however, also reflected a long-time reliance on domestic rather than foreign demand as the main generator of economic growth.

They showed an 11.7 percent increase in imports, measured in terms of value in euros, and an 8.6 percent rise in the value of exports in 2011, compared with export growth of 14 percent in 2010.

Along with luxury goods, healthy agri-food exports, notably of grains and drinks, helped offset weaker export growth in the car and aerospace sectors and a contraction in pharmaceuticals.

Higher world oil prices raised the import bill, which while up 11.7 percent in 2011 from the previous year rose a slightly less striking 7.6 percent when the impact of dearer energy import costs was stripped out of the calculation.


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