By Helene Fouquet - Dec 7, 2011 6:52 PM GMT+0800
With France’s economy slowing and joblessness at its highest in 12 years, politicians are turning to a well-worn credo: “Buy French.”
France is entering the height of its holiday spending season with politicians egging consumers on to buy “Made in France” products to keep jobs at home. Consumer spending, which accounts for 56 percent of the $2.56 trillion economy, may create jobs if the French buy local goods, says Francois Bayrou, a centrist candidate in the presidential elections next year.
“My proposal is to rectify our country’s brand image, to encourage consumers to buy French and to support very small-and medium-sized companies,” Bayrou said in a posting on his website today, ahead of the official announcement of his candidacy this afternoon.
As the European debt crisis rips through France, President Nicolas Sarkozy, who faces an election in April and May next year, is struggling to cap unemployment. Joblessness is the biggest concern for French people, ahead of wages and pensions, according to a CSA survey for BFM radio in November.
Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement party unveiled its platform last month, saying it wants “Made in France” to become a trademark that’s as recognizable as “Made in Germany.” His Socialist Party rival Francois Hollande has made creating jobs at home a cornerstone of his campaign.
A poll last month showed that more than 50 percent of French people are willing to pay more for a “Made in France” product. The willingness is even greater in the purchase of food products, at 78 percent, according to the Opinion Way survey for the monthly Terra Eco.
Buying products that are local rather than low-cost is driven largely by “national economic solidarity,” the poll showed.
A separate Ifop survey for Cedre, an association to promote local entrepreneurs, showed that French consumers are ready to pay 5 to 10 percent more for domestic products.
Goods manufactured in France are on average 15 to 25 percent more expensive than in countries such as China, according to Vincent Gruau, head of Paris-based Cedre.
“The crisis is pushing French people to realize they must stop being naïve; they understand that to keep jobs at home they must consume locally,” said Gruau, who also heads Majencia, an office-supplies maker.
The number of people actively looking for work in France has jumped by 91,500 to 2.82 million since the start of the year, figures published last month by the Labor Ministry show.
Record Trade Deficit
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Nov. 28 that French unemployment will exceed 10 percent next year and gross domestic growth in the euro-zone’s second- largest economy will expand no more than 0.3 percent. That’s less optimistic than Sarkozy’s target of 1 percent. The unemployment rate was 9.7 percent at the end of September.
The push to buy local products also comes as France’s trade deficit rose to 72 billion euros ($97 billion) in the year through October, heading toward an annual record.
The rising shortfall has prompted calls from Sarkozy for greater “reciprocity” in trade. He has suggested that the European Union block products from countries that don’t have the same labor, quality and environmental standards as the region.
Socialist lawmaker Arnaud Montebourg, who was defeated in the Socialist presidential primaries, has gone so far as to call for “de-globalization.”
Earlier this year, the far-right National Front party candidate Marine Le Pen, who ranks third in presidential polls, promised to create 500,000 jobs over a five-year period using “strategic planning” and a protectionist economic policy.
Hollande, the frontrunner in the presidential race, is visiting a 20-person Montceau-Les-Mines, France-based factory today to celebrate the return of the production of an electronic cooking recipes tablet called “Qook” to France from China.
Meanwhile, in spite of the economic slump, French people will spend 1.9 percent more on Christmas shopping this year from 2010, according to a November study from Deloitte LLP. They’ll shell out on average 606 euros on gifts, food and socializing, compared with 449 euros for Germany, Deloitte said.
French leaders want them to spend it on goods produced at home, making the ”Made in France” leitmotiv pervasive.
A recent advertisement for Renault SA’s Megan car showed off French quality with a spoof of an Opel ad that praised German technology and reliability.
“It’s a funny ad, but it’s a symptomatic one,” said Gruau. “We laugh because we have hang ups about our industrial capability. Germans don’t; they are proud of their industry.”
As French Christmas shoppers flock to department stores and browse the Internet for presents, they’ll find websites touting Gallic products.
“To make a patriotic purchase, the solution is offer a gift produced in France!” says www.100pour100-madeinfrance.fr, a Montpellier-based online gift shop that sells liquor, umbrellas, shoes and jewelry.