France needs to restructure to regain food export power - Senate

PARIS, July 17 Wed Jul 17, 2013 9:54am EDT

PARIS, July 17 (Reuters) - France should restructure its export system involving too many, mostly state-funded, organisations if it wants to reverse a trend that saw it fall to fifth place among world agrifood exporters, a Senate panel said on Wednesday.

The analysis coincides with the presentation of a 3-billion-euro government plan to cut wasteful subsidies in a country which has one of the highest levels of public spending in the developed world.

France was the world's second largest exporter of agricultural and food products after the United States in 2000 but had fallen to fifth by 2011, overtaken by the Netherlands, Germany and Brazil.

In a report on the challenges facing French agrifood exports, members of the Senate's finance committee said this was partly due to an excessive number of players, including two ministries, two export lobbies, farm office FranceAgriMer and local authorities, benefiting from public funding to promote French food abroad, thereby wasting money and energy.

"Companies consider that the public system is unreadable. There is a mosaic of administration bodies," Senator Christian Bourquin, one of the co-authors of the report, said. "We need to chop through all of this," he said.

Agrifood exports showed an 11.5 billion euros ($15.1 billion) surplus in 2012, making it the second-largest sector surplus after aerospace, bringing down France's trade deficit which stood at 67 billion euros last year.

Food minister Guillaume Garot last month said France could no longer rely on the famed cachet of its gastronomy to reverse a decline on the export scene and warned France risked not being a food power anymore. He did not suggest a new export policy.

The Senators who went to the Netherlands while compiling their report said France should take an example from the Dutch who had simplified their administration in the past years.

"We are far from having our foot down, we have a remarkable acceleration potential," Senator Andre Ferrand said. ($1 = 0.7612 euros) (Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; editing by Gus Trompiz and Keiron Henderson)

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