Lipstick to civil nuclear: China-France economic and trade ties at 60

This photo taken on November 9, 2022 shows a view of Airbus’ final assembly line for the A320 family aircraft in north China’s Tianjin. /Xinhua

This photo taken on November 9, 2022 shows a view of Airbus’ final assembly line for the A320 family aircraft in north China’s Tianjin. /Xinhua

One in every three lipsticks exported from France is bought by a Chinese customer, Fabrice Megarbane, president of L’Oreal North Asia Zone and CEO of L’Oreal China, said during a consumer exposition last year.

L’Oreal, a leading French cosmetics company, participated in the China International Consumer Products Expo in Haikou, south China’s Hainan Province, for the fourth time in April 2024, one of several French businesses flocking to the event to tap into the potential of the Chinese market.

Since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1964, China and France have traded extensively, from consumer products like cosmetics, wine and cheese to cutting-edge technology like aircraft, satellites and nuclear power plants.

France is now China’s third-largest trading partner in the European Union and the third-largest source of actual investment, while China is France’s largest trading partner in Asia and its seventh-largest globally, according to the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade.

Advanced cooperation

China and France have worked together to break new ground in advanced areas, including civil nuclear energy and aerospace and aviation.

Airbus, for example, launched its second final assembly line project in Tianjin in 2023 as the French aircraft manufacturer sought to expand in the Chinese market.

That was a powerful vote of confidence in the future of aviation in China, and underlined Airbus’ long, trustful and successful relationship with partners in China, said Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury via video link at the launch ceremony in September 2023.

Data from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce showed 6,687 French companies had been established in China by the end of 2021, with a total investment of over $19 billion.

France has been invited to serve as the Guest Country of Honor for both the 2024 China International Fair for Trade in Services, set to kick off in September in Beijing, and the seventh China International Import Expo to be held in November in Shanghai.

“We invite French companies to dive deep into the Chinese market and export more high-quality products, technologies and services to both Chinese and global markets, enjoying the development opportunities of China and bringing new impetus to global development,” said Lu Shaye, the Chinese ambassador to France.

Growing the pie

While deepening cooperation in traditional areas, China and France have also identified promising avenues for working together in emerging sectors such as the digital economy, green energy and the senior economy.

According to a spring 2023 survey on French companies in China conducted by the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China, member companies had reported a higher willingness to expand their businesses in China over the next three years, compared to the previous survey published in September 2022. Up to 47 percent said they were planning to further invest in the country, according to the survey.

“French companies are full of confidence in the Chinese market,” French Ambassador to China Bertrand Lortholary told reporters in November 2023.

During talks with French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in Paris in April, Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao said trade between China and France reached $78.9 billion in 2023, with Chinese imports from France increasing by 5.5 percent year on year.

The trade balance has further improved, and bilateral investment and cooperation in emerging industries have seen a boom, said Wang.

The two countries should “make the pie bigger for mutual benefit,” pool cooperation forces and share development opportunities through openness, said Chinese President Xi Jinping during a video speech to a reception celebrating the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in January.

“Facing the next 60 years, China and France will work together to create greater glories,” he said.