French trade deficit hits record high in November

FILE PHOTO: The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Paris
FILE PHOTO: Cranes are seen at a closed construction site of extension buildings on the banks of the Seine River in Paris, during a lockdown imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Paris, France April 8, 2020. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

January 7, 2022

PARIS (Reuters) -France posted a record trade deficit in November as spiralling energy prices drove up the import bill, official data showed on Friday.

The deficit surged to 9.727 billion euros ($10.99 billion)from 7.697 billion a month earlier with the value of imports reaching an all-time high of 52.5 billion euros versus 51.3 billion in October, the customs office said.

Like many countries around the world, France has been in the grip of an energy crisis since last year, when the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions put huge demands on depleted stocks of natural gas, sending prices of gas, related commodities and carbon emission permits to their highest in years.

Surging energy prices have added to underlying weakness in the French economy, whose trade balance has been in the red since 2004 as the country’s industrial sector declined.

While President Emmanuel Macron’s government has sought to reverse the trend, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said that improving the trade balance should be one of the major economic priorities for the next government after presidential elections in April.

“The weakness of our foreign trade reflects the weakness of our domestic economy. There is not great nation with a foreign (trade) balance that remains in deficit,” Le Maire said.

In a case in point, other official data showed a 0.4% decline in French industrial output in November versus October, confounding a median forecast by economists for a 0.5% increase.

Meanwhile, consumer spending, at +0.8%, was a little higher than the +0.5% forecast in November, data published on Friday from the INSEE stats office showed.

($1 = 0.8850 euros)

(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten and Leigh Thomas, Editing by Richard Lough and Frances Kerry)