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French Fab: France's manufacturing sector branded to boost exports

© Sebastian Seibt | French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire presents his vision for the future of French industry in Paris on October 2, 2017.

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2017-10-03

France’s economy minister on Monday launched a new label for French industry, tagged French Fab. A brand in the vein of “French Tech”, which is dedicated to growing French start-ups around the world.

After French Tech (for start-ups), French Touch (for luxury goods), meet French Fab, the latest label in the “Made in France” brand stable. The new moniker introduced by Bruno Le Maire on Monday in Paris applies exclusively to manufacturing, spanning small businesses to conglomerates. France’s Public Investment Bank is leading the project.

The launch couldn’t have come at a better time for the government, a bright spot amid turbulent industry news. France’s leadership had drawn criticism in recent days for its handling of two delicate industrial files: the rail-business merger between Alstom and Siemens – seen as disproportionately favouring the German firm – and Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri’s purchase of what is effectively a controlling stake in STX France and Saint-Nazaire’s shipyards last Thursday – the upshot being a sector that needs to look abroad for help.

French Fab, on the contrary, wants to promote French manufacturing as a sector “exporting and winning market share globally”, Philippe Varin, chairman of the French energy giant Areva, said at the launch – not unlike French Tech, a label that has caught on internationally.

Roosters for hire

Indeed, French Fab borrows heavily from its illustrious predecessor, beyond the rooster logos (a red one for French Tech, blue for the new iteration). One is open to all start-ups, the other to any French manufacturing player providing the firm meets conditions sufficiently vague to cast a wide net (being innovative, being “team players”, pursuing export, “going digital”). The two labels are first and foremost meant to associate firms under a single banner in the face of international competition. That is how French Tech won its wager on visibility: France had the second largest contingent (after the United States) at the most recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

French industry is hoping for a similar performance at the Hanover trade fair next April. Will a French Fab stand in Germany suffice to “give new impetus to French industry”, as Le Maire suggested it might in his French Fab keynote speech on Monday? The sector certainly needs a boost: over the past 15 years, it has lost nearly a million jobs and now represents only 12.5 percent of French GDP, down from 16 percent in the late 1990s.

“But if we look more closely, high-tech industry is growing in France and we must wager on that upmarket range,” Le Maire argued. The minister wants French Fab to become a showcase for that elite element of French industry. To do so, it wagers on incubators for small and medium-sized businesses akin to campuses for start-ups, like Station F in Paris. Le Maire wants 4,000 such businesses enlisted into incubators spread across the country over the next four years to groom the firms as export champs.

Mittelstand à la Française

That’s a unique feature of French Fab: the label is meant to drive a French industrial base that relies on medium-sized exporting firms – like Germany’s “Mittelstand”, a German term encompassing that country’s more than 11,000 world-beating, super dynamic and competitive intermediate-sized firms. Those attending the French Fab launch on Monday were universally disappointed to see France, with its 4,000 medium-sized exporting firms, lagging in that area.

Le Maire suggests that cultivating à Mittelstand à la Française and championning the very high end of the manufacturing spectrum is key ingredients to keeping France from the sort of decline “depicted in Michel Houellebecq novels”, from the industrial wasteland of his debut “Whatever” to the theme park of “The Map and the Territory”.

This article has been translated from the original in French.

Date created : 2017-10-03

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