* WTO chief must better defend Europe - French minister
* "Made in France" drive to protect local jobs, industry
* Supermarkets urged to create "buy French" shelves
(Adds EU commissioner paragraphs 7-10)
By Mark John
PARIS, Oct 22 The French minister behind a media
campaign to promote the "Made In France" brand rejected World
Trade Organisation concerns over protectionism on Monday and
blamed the world body for failing to halt unfair competition
Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg donned France's
emblematic striped Breton sweater for a magazine cover published
last week to urge local consumers to favour French products such
as food mixers by the 75-year-old Moulinex company.
The move came as France prepares reforms aimed at restoring
lost competitiveness on world markets, with President Francois
Hollande's Socialist government under pressure from employers to
cut labour charges they say make French products too expensive.
WTO chief Pascal Lamy, a fellow French Socialist, warned at
the weekend that appeals to favour French goods could become
"patriotic protectionism", insisting that world trade relied on
countries being open to imports.
"I suggest that Pascal Lamy address the imbalance between
industrial nations so as to better defend French and European
business," Montebourg fired back on France Info radio.
"China was let into the WTO without any conditions," he
added of China's 2001 entry in the body, alleging that hundreds
of thousands of jobs had been lost in Europe due to unfair
competition in the world economy.
European Union Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht said
Montebourg's protectionist push made no sense given France
probably had the most industrial firms among the world's top 500
"France can't redistribute the global trade cards alone," he
said in an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro to be
published on Tuesday.
"These firms probably do better overseas than they do in
France. So I ask: How do you reindustrialise France with a
35-hour week and without resolving the high wage costs? I don't
think Mr Montebourg has much interest in the long-term."
Montebourg, who wants supermarkets in France to set up
shelves with purely French products as they do for organic
goods, has criticised multinationals such as steel giant
ArcelorMittal over plans to close certain French operations.
He is also pushing for a law that would force companies to
find a buyer for such assets rather than shut them down - a move
even some trade unions suggest would be hard to implement.
French unemployment has hit 13-year highs above three
million, or 10 percent, and latest trade data showed a widening
of its current account deficit in August.
France's industrial sector accounts for around 13.5 percent
of its national output, down from nearly 18 percent in the
mid-70s, according to official data.
Employers group Medef has called on the government to make
deep cuts to labour charges, which are among the highest in
Europe along with those in Sweden and Belgium and are needed to
finance the generous welfare state.
RELUCTANT TO TRANSFER CHARGES
However the government is reluctant to transfer the charges
to other levies such as a value-added tax, arguing that this
would hit consumer spending and so dampen economic growth, which
analysts forecast at around 0.4 percent next year.
Instead it has set up a state investment agency aimed at
helping small business to create higher-value products for which
world markets are prepared to pay a premium.
"France has got major attractions - let's defend them and
stop running ourselves down," said Montebourg.
Under French rules, companies can advertise their wares as
"Made in France" if the last part of the production process
takes place in France - meaning that their components or even
part of the assembly process can be non-French.
"One hundred percent French, that doesn't exist any more,"
French media have lampooned the appearance of the
49-year-old Montebourg in a sweater originally produced for the
French navy that has become a fashion icon and inspiration for
designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier.
Asked to comment on the outfit, Medef president Laurence
Parisot said she found the Montebourg photo shoot for the
magazine section of Le Parisien newspaper "very sexy".
(Additional Reporting by John Irish; editing by Catherine
Bremer and Michael Roddy)