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April 29, 2017

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Montebourg attacks WTO on eurozone's China trade deficit

PARIS--French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg made an outspoken attack Monday on the World Trade Organization and the growth of Chinese exports to the eurozone.

Montebourg, a strong critic of the way France, within the European Union, has opened up its markets to globalization and free trade, said that the effects on eurozone trade balances had been "scandalous" and a "disaster."

The minister has launched a campaign for French consumers to buy French goods and to encourage supermarkets to create sections of floor space solely for products made in France.

This caused the head of the WTO, Frenchman Pascal Lamy to say on Saturday that he had nothing against economic patriotism but he would be opposed if this became "patriotic protectionism" because in the world economy today, to achieve strong exports, a country had to increase its imports.

Montebourg, a minister in the socialist-green government under President Francois Hollande, hit back at Lamy who also has a socialist background but is a strong defender of open trade.

"I suggest to Pascal Lamy that he focuses on re-balancing the existing unbalanced relations between industrial nations so as to defend French and European industry today," Montebourg said on France Info radio.

"The picture of world free trade offered by the WTO is a disaster," Montebourg said, in a blunt attack on the conditions under which China joined the WTO.

"China was allowed to enter the WTO without anything in exchange," he said.

"Ten years ago, we had no trade deficit with China. Today France has a deficit of 25 billion euros (US$32.6 billion), Germany 22 billion and the eurozone 150 billion."

Montebourg, who had launched his buy-French campaign by appearing on the front cover of a magazine wearing a blue and white striped fishseller's jersey, said: "If we have lost hundreds of thousands of jobs in industry it's also because there is unfair competition and scandalous unfair globalization. This must be stopped."

Praising economic patriotism, Montebourg said: "The consumer has unused power. As any citizen, the consumer has the right to vote but also another voting right of a sort, to vote for France when making purchases. The consumer under-estimates this economic power."

The WTO, with 157 members and based in Geneva, is the successor of the post-war General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and is the forum for the phased opening up of trade and the settlement of disputes when a signatory considers that another signatory has broken WTO trade rules.

It has made quantum leaps in the lowering of trade barriers and the opening of markets by bringing member countries together under so-called trade "rounds," the latest being the Doha Round which is deadlocked.

China became a member on Dec. 11, 2001.

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