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Premier's France visit to focus on trade
Updated: 2005-12-04 15:01

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is set to arrive in France for a four day visit that looks set to be dominated by trade issues, with a large order for Airbus airliners said to be in the offing.

Wen starts his visit Sunday afternoon at the southwestern city of Toulouse -- headquarters to the European air consortium -- where French officials are hopeful he will announce plans to buy up to 120 medium-range A320 planes.

The premier is to hold talks with French President Jacques Chirac in Paris on Monday morning, followed by a meeting with his opposite number Dominique de Villepin where officials have said a number of commercial and economic accords will be signed.

He also has a meeting planned with the business organisation MEDEF and will fly to the southern city of Marseille to view the nearby site of the future experimental nuclear fusion reactor ITER, in which China is a partner.

Wen leaves France on Wednesday and will continue his European tour with stopovers in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Portugal.

With the Chinese civil aviation market set to grow at double the world average, Airbus has said it wants to build its share of the fleet from 34 percent today -- against 60 percent for the US manufacturer Boeing -- to 50 percent by 2013.

Chinese officials have hinted that Wen's visit to France will be the opportunity for an order announcement that would balance out the purchase of 70 Boeing 737s which was made public during U.S. President George W. Bush's trip to Beijing last month.

Discussions remain at a delicate point on other major trade deals between China and France, such as the planned construction of four third-generation nuclear power plants for which the French Areva is competing against the US company Westinghouse and Russia's AtomStroyExport, officials said.

In a pre-trip interview with Le Figaro newspaper, Wen said the French company needed to improve its offer -- both in price and the increasingly important domain of technology transfer.

"We hope France will be able to make more advantageous proposals. That would help French companies to win the contract," he said.

France is also hoping for contracts to expand and renovate China's rail network, but the national champion Alstom faces tough competition from the German Siemens which last month won a deal worth 669 million euros to supply high-speed trains.

Talks with French leaders were also expected to focus on diplomatic issues, including China's demand -- backed by Paris -- for the EU to lift the arms embargo, as well as French concerns over the "delocalisation" to China of jobs and businesses.

In recent years France has seen its relationship with China as a "strategic partnership" which can further its goal of a "multipolar" world that is not dominated by a single US superpower, according to French diplomats.

"This strategic partnership allows us to bring up a number of major international issues, such as multilateralism, reform of the United Nations, aid to developing countries and nuclear proliferation," said foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei.

In his interview with Le Figaro, Wen sought to play down fears in France that China's low costs labors are sucking in economic activity, and driving up unemployment in Europe.

"The success of the Chinese economy benefits the French people too -- not just the Chinese," Wen said, arguing that China's long-term policy is to push up domestic demand and thus open up opportunities for foreign exporters.

"The growth of our economy will engender an increase in domestic demand which will lead to job creation in France," he said.

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