Chirac takes China business pitch to Wuhan

French President Jacques Chirac visited the central Chinese industrial city of Wuhan on Friday, aiming to boost French efforts to tap into China’s fast-growing economy.

Buoyed by more than $10-billion in deals bagged on Thursday in Beijing, where he met President Hu Jintao, the French leader openly lobbied for more contracts at a lunch with local business leaders.

He mentioned a bid by Veolia Environnement to provide water services to the city and pushed French engineering firm Alstom, which builds France’s high-speed trains, for a planned high-speed rail link between Wuhan and the coastal metropolis of Guangzhou.

”In this area, France has incomparable experience in Europe,” said Chirac.

By far the biggest share of the deals on Thursday went to European planemaker Airbus, with an order worth $9,9-billion at list prices for 150 medium-haul A320 jets.

Chirac said an accompanying decision to build an A320 assembly line in the northern city of Tianjin showed the determination of France and its Airbus partners to forge a strategic alliance between Europe and China in aeronautics.

”We must extend this logic to other pillar industries covered by our partnership in which France stands ready to provide more ambitious levels of cooperation,” Chirac said.

As part of the accords signed in Beijing, France and China agreed to extend cooperation in aeronautics, rail and nuclear energy to other areas, including telecommunications and the environment.

At the lunch, Chirac, on what is likely to be his last trip to China as president before his term expires next May, enthusiastically applauded as musicians played an array of racked bells and other traditional instruments.

Chirac was due later to inaugurate the construction of a second Wuhan car factory run by PSA Peugeot Citroen and its Chinese partner, Dongfeng Motor Group.

Europe’s second largest car firm hopes to double its sales by 2010 in the world’s fastest-growing auto market, which is dominated by America’s General Motors.

French firms have established a strong presence in Wuhan, a sprawling city standing astride the Yangtze river and twinned with Bordeaux.

PSA’s new plant in Wuhan will be capable of producing 150 000 cars a year. PSA’s local venture sold 140 000 cars in 2005 and it hopes to sell 200 000 this year. – Reuters

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