France as international trade partner


Despite linguistic, legal differences, French market is attractive for US firms

France has long been and will continue to be an important market for US suppliers exporting a wide range of industrial and consumer goods, food and agricultural products, and various kinds of services.
In terms of two-way trade, France is America’s third-largest trading partner in Europe after the United Kingdom and Germany.
The United States and France share many similarities as global traders, such as their status as the world’s top two exporters of defense equipment, agricultural products and services.
France has the world’s fourth-largest industrial economy, with an annual GDP about one-fifth that of the United States. The disposable income of France’s population of almost 60 million is at a high level of about $23,000 per capita. France’s membership in major international groups such as the G-7, European Union, World Trade Organization, and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development testifies to the country’s active involvement in world economic affairs.
Best prospects for American exports to France include computer software, hardware and peripherals, electronic components, aircraft and aircraft parts, telecommunications equipment, scientific and laboratory equipment, medical equipment, environmental and pollution control technologies, automobiles and parts, and farm machinery.
On the services side, French markets for travel and tourism, employment services, franchising, and telecommunications services hold the most potential for US suppliers. Travel and tourism to the US comprises the largest single American export earner – the French are avid travelers and the United States is an attractive travel destination for French tourists.
The commercial environment in France is generally favorable for the sale of American goods and services. Marketing in France is somewhat like marketing in the US, with several significant differences. A wide range of potential distribution channels exists in the French market and export marketers will need to carefully consider the method best suited to their products. French buyers generally prefer to purchase through an intermediary, making sales directly to end-users an uncommon practice. Sales of expensive, technically advanced goods and equipment are an exception to that rule, however.
Purchasing decisions are made on the basis of quality, price, and after-sales service. The principal difference American exporters will notice in France is, first of all, the French language, followed by the French and European legal environment. Since 1994, the "Loi toubon" requires all advertising, labeling, instructions and promotional materials to be in French. Many products exported to France and other European Union countries require CE marking and certification, showing that the item meets European safety standards. And terminating a sales agreement with a French distributor or representative can be difficult, so careful drafting of such agreements is essential, preferably under the guidance of a qualified French lawyer.
Although the bulk of France’s foreign trade is conducted with its European neighbors, savvy American exporters can overcome the barriers of distance, language and differing legal requirements to successfully sell in the French market. Because of their proximity and the fact that the European Union charges no duties on trade among EU member countries, competitors based in Europe may have a natural advantage over offshore exporters in selling to France. Nevertheless, American companies are well represented in France both as traders and investors and there is every indication that this strong relationship will continue in the future.

The above report is based in part on information provided by the U.S. Commercial Service in France. For more information about doing business in France or other European countries, contact the Milwaukee Export Assistance Center at 414-297-3473;

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National capital: Paris
Form of government: Republic
Official language: French
Population: 58.8 million (1998 est.)
Population growth rate: 0.31%
GDP per capita: $22,700 (1997)
Literacy rate: 99% of people age 15 and over can read and write
Major industries: Steel, machinery, chemicals, automobiles, metallurgy, aircraft, electronics, mining, textiles, food processing, tourism
Exports to: Germany 17%, Italy 9%, United Kingdom 9%, Spain 8%, Belgium-Luxembourg 8%, United States 6%
Imports from: Germany 17%, Italy 10%, United States 9%, Belgium-Luxembourg 8%, United Kingdom 8%, Spain 7%, Netherlands 5%
Major foreign investors: United States, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland

Source: CIA World Factbook

Best Prospects
for U.S. Exports:

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Computer Software
Computers and Peripherals
Electronic Components
Safety and Security Equipment
Aircraft and Parts
Telecommunications Equipment
Scientific and Laboratory Equipment
Medical Equipment
Environmental Technology Equipment and Services Automotive Parts
and Service Equipment
Automobiles and Light Trucks
Agricultural Machinery

Source: U.S. Embassy,
Commercial Service, 1999

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