2019 foreign trade results: France’s trade balance improves despite an unfavourable international environment
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Minister of State Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne presented the foreign trade figures for 2019, published at 8.45 a.m. this morning, 7 February, by the Customs Department (for trade in goods) and the Banque de France (for trade in services).
Our trade balance for goods improved for the first time since 2015, with a deficit of €58.9 billion, after €62.8 billion in 2018, thanks to an increase in exports (up 3.3% to €508 billion) that was more marked than for imports (up 2.2% to €566.9 billion). Our trade balance improved by comparison with all the world’s major regions except Asia.
The non-energy goods trade deficit fell from €32 billion in 2018 to €29.1 billion in 2019, thanks in particular to good performance in exports of pharmaceutical products (up 10.4% to €33.6 billion), textile products and clothing (up 8.5% to €28.5 billion), and agricultural and agrifood products (up 3.2% to €64.4 billion). Exports in the aerospace sector increased for the second year running (up 11.9% to €64.2 billion) thanks to a new record year for Airbus (863 deliveries, including 358 from France). The luxury industries also continued to support our foreign trade, with a 9% increase in exports to €55.9 billion.
The energy bill fell slightly in 2019 (down €0.8 billion) but continued to have a strong impact on our trade balance, accounting for some 60% of the total goods deficit. This stabilization, which is linked to the fall in the oil price in 2019 (Brent down 9.4% a barrel), follows two years of marked increases (up 24% in 2017 and 16% in 2018).
Non-energy imports continued to grow at the same pace as in 2018 (up 3.2%), in particular due to the dynamism of the French economy. Significant rises in imports can also be seen in the aerospace (up 10.2% to €33.2 billion), industrial and agricultural machinery (up 4.7% to €47.6 billion) and motor-vehicle (up 4.8% to €47.3 billion) sectors.
Our trade in services was still broadly in surplus, with a balance of €21.8 billion in 2019, although this was in decline (after €23.8 billion in 2018). In particular, while tourism revenues continued to increase for the third consecutive year (up 4.4% to €57.9 billion), the even more marked increase in French people’s spending abroad (up 11.5% to €45.2 billion) led to a reduction in our tourism surplus.
As for the current balance – a measure of France’s need for foreign finance –, it remained relatively stable and comparable to that of 2018, down 0.8% of GDP in 2019, according to the latest estimates from the Banque de France.
France’s foreign trade thus showed good resilience in an unfavourable international environment marked by high trade tensions, a rise in protectionism and lacklustre global trade. This resilience is remarkable by comparison with other European countries. According to the trends observed in the first three quarters of 2019, the growth in French goods exports in 2019 was greater than that in German, British, Italian, Dutch and Spanish exports. France’s market share in global trade has stabilized since 2012, at 3.1% in goods and 3.5% in goods and services, keeping France in fifth place in the world in terms of exports of goods and services.
Compared to that of its rivals, France’s competitiveness has shown positive momentum, as testified by the change in cost-competitiveness indicators compared to the other OECD countries, indicating an increase of nearly 7% compared to the end of 2013, with the pace speeding up recently.
the measures taken by the government, such as those cutting businesses’ labour costs and the tax reforms aimed at stimulating investment, are contributing to this.
The number of exporting businesses recorded by the Customs Department continued to increase in 2019 to over 128,000 compared to 125,000 in 2018, i.e. a higher level than the pre-crisis level (2008).
In order to strengthen our export performance and support the internationalization of the French economy, the government is pursuing its reforms strategy presented by the Prime Minister in Roubaix on 23 February 2018.
Last year saw the deployment of the new scheme, Team France Export, for providing export support to SMEs and mid-sized companies. Regional one-stop shops were set up under the aegis of France’s regions by Business France – the public body tasked with supporting businesses in their export plans –, the French Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CCI) and Bpifrance. Abroad, special correspondents tasked with offering businesses tailor-made support were appointed, while Business France reorganized its support activities by forging partnerships with private actors in some countries to extend Team France Export’s geographical scope and provide a better service for businesses wishing to develop internationally. New digital tools were put in place for businesses in the scheme and to make it easier for the state to monitor it. Finally, the scheme to support the internationalization of businesses was also strengthened in the area of export finance: 1,490 companies benefited in 2019 (up 11%) from prospecting insurance managed by Bpifrance Assurance Export and revamped in 2018, which is our flagship tool for providing public finance support for SMEs abroad.
Team France Export, which promotes simplicity and transparency, has been very warmly welcomed by businesses. An initial progress report on the new scheme will be made at some point in 2020.
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