France should make more of the goods it needs as epidemic shows risk: finance minister

RIYADH (Reuters) - France should aim to produce more of the goods it deems strategic, such as drugs and electric batteries, as the coronavirus outbreak lays bare the danger of relying on imports from China, the country’s finance minister said on Sunday.

Bruno Le Maire spoke to Reuters as the coronavirus epidemic slammed the brakes on the economy in China, the world’s largest exporter, and spread to the core of Europe, with more than 100 cases in Italy.

Le Maire said the emergency called for accelerating a shift in industrial policy towards making key goods within national or European Union borders, using state aid when necessary.

“It’s not protectionism, it’s just responsibility,” he said on the sidelines of a meeting of financial leaders in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

“It costs a lot at the starting point so you need the support of public funding. China is doing the same, the United States are doing the same, I don’t know why Europe would not do the same for strategic assets like electric batteries,” he added.

France is one of seven European Countries that had 3.2 billion euros ($3.5 billion) of state aid approved from the European Commission for research and innovation in battery technology.

Le Maire listed pharmaceuticals and aerospace as a further two sectors where France’s reliance on Chinese imports was too great.

($1 = 0.9223 euros)

Reporting by Francesco Canepa; Editing by David Holmes