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French prime minister backs Airbus in Japan

Latest update : 2008-04-13

Prime Minister François Fillon of France signed a Franco-Japanese economic agreement in Tokyo on Friday, raising prospects of orders for aircraft manufacturer Airbus, hitherto insignificant in the Japanese aviation market. Nathalie Tourret reports.


French Prime Minister Francois Fillon on Thursday began a visit to Japan aimed at boosting industrial cooperation, including in nuclear energy.

Fillon, accompanied by top business leaders and France's minister for research and higher education, arrived Thursday evening at Tokyo's Haneda airport, an AFP photographer said.

The trip is meant to show continued French interest in the world's second largest economy nearly a year after the election of President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has visited China and India but not Japan.

Fillon was due to be received in a ceremonial audience on Friday with Emperor Akihito before talks with Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. He will also address a business seminar.

He is expected to sign a new contract involving Arianespace. The European space agency has launched 27 Japanese satellites since 1986, grabbing 75 percent of the Japanese market, according to the French prime minister's office.

On Saturday, Fillon heads to the northern town of Rokkasho, where France's Areva contributed to the construction of Japan's first power plant to extract plutonium from already used nuclear fuel.

Japan and France are major advocates of nuclear power, with Japan lacking virtually any natural energy sources. But the yet-to-open Rokkasho plant has been controversial, with some local residents voicing concerns about its safety.

Fillon is also joined by Louis Gallois, head of European aerospace giant EADS, the parent company of airplane maker Airbus.

Airbus is trying to sell its giant new A380 but has had little success in Japan, whose companies buy almost exclusively from US rival Boeing.

Date created : 2008-04-11