China, France sign cooperation agreements, sending strong message against economic decoupling
Xi and Macron attended the closing ceremony of the fifth meeting of the China-France Business Council (Photo: Xinhua News)

China and France signed a series of important cooperation agreements during a state visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to China on Thursday.

The expanded cooperation between China and France sent a message that instead of decoupling, increasing trade relations with China is an important priority for a major European economy like France, experts said, expecting Macron’s visit to have a positive impact on China-France trade ties and send positive signals to EU countries.

The two sides will deepen cooperation in traditional areas such as aviation, aerospace and civilian nuclear energy, and cultivate new growth drivers in cooperation such as green development and scientific and technological innovation, including building a China-France carbon neutrality center and strengthening joint training of talent, Xinhua reported.

At China’s invitation, France will be a guest of honor country at the 2024 China International Fair for Trade in Services and the seventh China International Import Expo.

The two countries are committed to providing a fair, just and non-discriminatory business environment for each other’s companies, according to Xinhua.

Macron was accompanied by a business delegation of more than 60 executives from a range of French companies.

Speaking at the closing ceremony of the fifth meeting of the China-France Business Council on Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that China-France economic and trade cooperation has not only boosted the economic growth of the two countries and improved people’s well-being, but also boosted confidence and stabilized expectations for the world’s economic recovery, Xinhua reported.

As China’s economic and social vitality is fully unleashed, and dialogue and cooperation between China and France and between China and the EU are fully activated in various fields, we should seize the opportunity to strengthen cooperation and create a better future for all, Xi said.

Macron noted that France opposes “decoupling and chain breaking” and hopes to build a more robust and open supply chain, Xinhua reported.

“The visit is an excellent opportunity to strengthen ties between France and China on both the diplomatic and economic levels. It’s very positive news for the business community that we’re all here today,” Sabrina Soussan, chairman and CEO of SUEZ, who is part of the business delegation, told the Global Times on Thursday.

SUEZ is a French-based environmental company that operates largely in the water and waste management sectors. The company signed environmental cooperation agreement with Chinese partners to strengthen its scope of cooperation with local partners and business in China’s ecological transition for the long term.

“China is one of our biggest markets. Our ambition is to grow even more quickly than we do today,” Soussan said.

China’s steady average growth rate of 5.2 percent over the past five years indicates that the long-term fundamentals of the economy remain strong. The projected growth rate of 5 percent for 2023 also sends a positive signal for the overall improvement of the economy and a return to its potential growth rate, Soussan said.

Macron’s visit showed that France is optimistic about the robust growth and development outlook for the world’s second-largest economy in the context of global economic downward pressure, recession risks in the US and slowing economic growth in Europe, Sun Yanhong, a senior research fellow at the Institute of European Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday.

“It shows that unlike the US, France does not advocate decoupling,” Sun said, adding that China holds a lot of attraction for French companies for its advantage in high-end manufacturing and its large consumption market.

In recent years, China-France relations have maintained a positive momentum of development.

According to Lu Shaye, Chinese Ambassador to France, in 2022, trade in goods between China and France crossed the 100 billion euro ($109.17 billion) mark for the first time, with year-on-year growth of 14.6 percent.

Both countries have strong potential in aerospace, aviation, agriculture, food and other areas, experts said.

In a meeting with French Minister of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Marc Fesneau, Tang Renjian, Chinese Minister of Agricultural and Rural Affairs, said that France is a major agricultural country in the EU, and China-France agricultural cooperation has huge potential.

Tang suggested that the agricultural departments of the two countries expand cooperation and push for more practical results in agricultural trade and wine industry cooperation.

As France is making great efforts to develop nuclear energy and renewable energy, facing an energy shortage, China’s advantage in the global industrial chains for photovoltaic systems and wind power offer a good basis for collaboration, Sun said.

China’s advantages in advanced manufacturing, smooth logistics and skilled labor are what high-end manufacturing companies need, Sun added.

Macron’s visit is expected to inject new momentum and bring new vitality to China-Europe relations, experts said.

“I think it is very likely that the economic and trade relations between China and Europe will recover significantly in the second half of this year,” Sun said.

France is the second-largest economy in the EU. After the signing of these cooperation agreements between China and France, orders and actual production will follow, and actual trade will likely have a significant surge in the second half of the year, Sun said.