European Ports & Trade 2005 - France making pitch for distribution business

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France making pitch for distribution business: Government promoting public/private port investmentsBy Peter A. Buxbaum, AJOTThe government of France is promoting that country as a gateway for trade with the European Union. There is some evidence that its message is getting across.
According to a report issued by a French government agency, France ranked second in the world this year in total inflows of direct foreign investment, up from fourth place in 2004. France ranked fourth in 2005 in foreign direct investment as a percentage of gross domestic product, up from sixth last year. Among the factors influencing these phenomena, France rated high on the global list for labor productivity and in the ease of setting up businesses.
The French are particularly interested in promoting their prowess in the areas of transportation, distribution, and logistics. “France has a centralized location bordering six other EU countries, seven, if you include the United Kingdom by way of the tunnel,” says Michel Gilbert, the Chicago-based logistics industry expert of the Invest in France Agency, the economic development arm of the French government. “That, along with its strong transportation infrastructure, make it a strategic location for companies receiving and distributing products around the world.”
Invest in France has been operating in the United Stated for 35 years and has been headquartered in Chicago since 1974. The agency also operates offices in New York and Palo Alto. The Paris-based agency is headed by Clara Gaymard who frequently calls on US business leaders, according to Gilbert.
“We work with North American companies that want to invest in Europe,” he says. “We promote France as a good location for their manufacturing, research, and logistics facilities. We have been concentrating heavily on logistics for the last year or two.”
The French government last year launched a promotional campaign featuring testimonials from companies like General Electric and Toshiba in publications such the Financial Times, the International Herald-Tribune, and the New York Times. Coca-Cola, Pfizer, UPS, Kodak, and Columbia Sportswear are among the other US companies that have established their European logistics operations in France. “There are over 50,000 executives who specialize in logistics throughout France and leading French universities offer logistics technology and training to help develop the next generation of logistics experts,” Gilbert says.
The government is also committed to the growth of the logistics industry through significant investments. A public/private investment of $600 million has been provided for the upgrade of existing container and bulk facilities at the Port of Le Havre, France’s largest port facility. That investment, as well as a new ProLogis logistics park on the outskirts of Paris are noted for their environmentally friendly design and operations.
US companies in the automotive, electronics, and pharmaceuticals sectors are among those Gilbert works with from his Chicago office. “We have two good car manufacturers, Peugeot and Renault,” Gilbert explains. “They are attracting US suppliers more and more. Whenever I meet automotive suppliers in the US, they always ask me, ‘What is the best way to penetrate Peugeot and Renault?’”
DaimlerChrysler is already ensconced in France, having opened a large distribution center in the northern part of the country two years ago. “They use it for distribution not only in France but all of northern Europe,” says Gilbert. “There are a total of 300 manufacturing sites of US automotive suppliers in France, most of them in the northern part of country because they need to be near Renault or Peugeot.”
Electronics and pharmaceutical companies tend to locate in the central part of the country, according to Gilbert. “A lot of American companies are interested in France because it borders Belgium and Germany,” he says. “Germany has always been a good market for US companies. Pfizer has located in central France, where they

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Peter Buxbaum has been writing about international trade and transportation, as well as security, defense, technology, and foreign policy, for over 20 years. Besides contributing to the AJOT, Buxbaum's work has appeared in such leading publications as [em]Fortune, Forbes, Chief Executive, Computerworld, and Jane's Defence Weekly[/em]. He was educated at Columbia University.