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5 October 2022
Public thematic report
For the last 15 years, foreign trade has been experiencing growing difficulties and the
French trade balance has continued to worsen. In 2021, in an admittedly unusual context,
it reached an all-time low of -
€84.7bn. The low buoyancy of exports, compared to that of
imports, puts France in a recurrent situation of external deficit. To restore France
s export
performance, France has been implementing a policy to support business competitiveness
since the 2000s. However, it was only in 2012 that France formally adopted a strategy to
support foreign trade. The current strategy is based on three focal areas, including the
identification of measures to strengthen the competitiveness of businesses and the
structuring of sectors. The report published today by the Court of Accounts analyses the
factors behind the decline in France
s export performance and the successive strategies
implemented to respond to the difficulties that businesses face. It also presents the
mechanisms for financing businesses wishing to export, as well as the support offering and
its business model.
A decline in French export performance
The French economy
s structural weaknesses and its insufficient competitiveness are handi-
caps in the face of competition from our main European and Western partners. This comes on
top of the growing trade power of emerging economies, such as China, which France has been
unable to withstand. France
s low price competitiveness has exacerbate its poor export per-
formance, due to high labour costs. The export support policy implemented, which consists of
support and financial assistance for businesses wishing to export, has been steered since 2014
by the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs and conducted by numerous public and private
stakeholders (including Business France, Bpifrance, chambers of commerce and industry, re-
gions, ambassadors, etc.). Adopted in 2018, the latest strategy to support foreign trade,
known as the
Roubaix strategy
, aimed to improve France
s trade balance through actions to
foster competitiveness, with a priority placed on very small enterprises (VSEs) and intermedi-
ate-sized enterprises (ISEs), to set sectoral priorities with the main economic and industrial
sectors and to highlight a geographical priority, Africa. Lastly, it aimed to set up a one-stop
Team France Export
(TFE), for businesses wishing to export. The purpose of this one-
stop shop was to bring together the services offered by all the public stakeholders in the ex-
port sector to make them more complementary, clearer and more accessible.
policy is struggling to clearly state its geographical priorities, apart from Africa, partly for dip-
lomatic reasons
In terms of sectors, no priorities have been set and the priority placed on
SMEs and ISEs that are first-time exporters seems questionable.
A rethink needed on export support policy
Over four years after the Roubaix strategy was implemented, and despite the progress made
in coordinating the main stakeholders in France and abroad, the reform of governance that
should have been possible with the establishment of TFE has not been completed. Public
stakeholders still appear to be too often in competition with each other, one example being
the difficulties in coordinating the ministries in charge of foreign affairs and the economy.
Some stakeholders are also less involved in TFE, including Bpifrance, which does not
coordinate its efforts with other public stakeholders. To remedy these difficulties, the Court
suggests that the Strategic Export Council, which brings together all relevant stakeholders, be
reformed to play a more strategic role. In addition, regional strategic committees should be
established to facilitate coordination between stakeholders at a local level.
Public measures with modest effects, a business model in need of reform
The commitments made by central government to support certain businesses are very
substantial, amounting to €61bn at the end of 2021. However, altho
ugh the financial support
offering in France appears comprehensive, its effects remain modest: just 27% of recipient
businesses feel that their international growth has been facilitated. The operator Business
France, whose funding is based almost equally on public support and commercial revenue, is
given objectives that encourage it to maximise its commercial revenue. However, this quest
for commercial resources encourages Business France to sell as many services as possible,
internationally, and by favouring a
approach that does not allow for long-term
support. The Court therefore proposes reconfiguring this support under a two-level system: a
first-level offering, free of charge, would be available to all businesses (notably all SMEs and
ISEs), thus enshrining TFE
s public service mission. For certain businesses deemed priorities,
tailored support, free of charge or at very low cost, would be offered to limit any crowding-out
effect. Such a transformation would have an effect on the business model of Business France,
which would then rely more on public resources, like many of its counterparts abroad.
Read the report
Emmanuel Kessler
Director of Communications
01 42 98 55 62
06 62 48 07 81
Julie Poissier
Head of Press Relations
01 42 98 97 43
06 87 36 52 21
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