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France’s blighted north lures thousands of Chinese firms

Photo : Conseil Général de la Moselle/ Dr

Regional authorities from northeastern France signed a historic deal in China this week that will give thousands of Chinese companies a gateway into the European marketplace and create 3,000 much-needed local jobs.


One of France’s poorest regions will soon become the focal point of major Chinese investment in Europe, after regional authorities signed a landmark agreement in Shanghai this week.

The department of Moselle in northeastern France will soon host a mammoth business exhibition centre, which will act as a platform for Chinese investment across Europe.
Leaders of the department of Moselle were in Shanghai on Monday to put pen to paper on a deal, that will see up to 2,000 Chinese companies represented at the centre from 2014.
The International Industry, Technology and Trade Exhibition Centre (ITEC) will give the companies a gateway into the European market and a chance to build contacts and encourage business with their European counterparts.
The centre will be built over 130 hectares at a site near the towns of Illange and Bertrang on the banks of the river Moselle, not far from the border with Luxembourg and Germany.
'Building a bridge between China and Europe’
ITEC has been heralded by Patrick Weiten, president of Moselle’s General Council, who spoke to FRANCE 24 during his visit to China this week.
“Our objective is to create closer ties between Europe and China and this project will act as a bridge between the two territories,” said Weiten, who believes the project will also have a positive impact on tourism in the region.
“The Chinese have been pushing for a long time to get this project off the ground. It will allow us to share our expertise in technology and industry.”
China’s direct investment in Europe continues to rise with figures released in June revealing total input was worth $10 billion in the year 2011. A study cited by the Financial Times suggested Chinese spending in Europe could rise to as much as $500 billion by 2020.
Pioneering project
Authorities estimate ITEC will create around 3,000 jobs locally in a region, that has suffered from the decline of France’s mining industry and is now home to some of the country’s poorest communities.
Only recently the region was dealt another blow when steel giant ArcelorMittal announced it was closing its plant in Florange, not far from the site of ITEC.
“Our region is perfect for this project because firstly, we have a big enough area available and secondly we stand at the heart of Europe,” Weiten told FRANCE 24. “We have excellent river and rail transport links”.
There will also be a similar ITEC centre in China, although on a much smaller scale, where European and Chinese companies can promote cooperation in the Far East.
“This is the first project launched on such a large scale in the area of business to business exchange,” said Annick de Kermadec-Benzmann from the Chinese branch of the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
From China’s perspective the prospect of them teaming up with France’s construction companies is also appealing.
“We could do business with them. They have projects, not only in Europe but also in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, through which we could sell our products and services. We are very interested,” said Dong Zhiwu of construction company Hangxiao.
But in a sign of how Chinese companies have been hit by the West’s financial crisis, Hangxiao has not received any orders from Europe in the last two years. It is the type of worrying statistic ITEC’s stakeholders will hope to remedy over the coming years.

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