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Christophe Lecourtier – CEO of Business France: “The international is played in the territories”

Public support for the export and internationalization of companies has undergone numerous reforms and changes. How do you analyze these developments?

I should point out that it is the companies that do the exporting, that have the expertise, the know-how and the good products. The question to ask is: are our companies competitive? The public offering comes as a framework and stimulator.
As in music or sport, talents exist. You just have to find them through certain targeted actions and the public authorities can serve this purpose. For too long companies have been exporting without any real preparation.
The report on French competitiveness, called the Gallois report, submitted in 2012 to the then Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, drew up a very moribund assessment of our industry: innovation was not there and margins were at the lowest. Since then, we have seen an improvement in their competitiveness because they have powerful tools and more reliable information. I am thinking of the Competitiveness and Employment Tax Credit (CICE). A virtuous circle around ease of access to innovation was then established. The morale of business leaders has also improved.

Does the Team France Export system respond to these changes?

This new dynamic has effectively pushed Business France to offer support adapted to the demands of companies. Hence the formation of the France Export Team in close collaboration with the Region, the economic power of reference in the territories and the network of Chambers of Commerce which naturally know the problems of their companies. Without forgetting the other partners: Regional economic agencies, Medef, Cpme, Chamber of Trades and Crafts, Bpifrance, Foreign Trade Advisors of France (CCEF) Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and specialized operators of international trade (OSCI) . The objective is to move faster on foreign markets by reducing the risk of failure. We are not in a logic of counter which would suggest that we are waiting by letting the leaders come to us. When I was appointed to Business France, my main mission was to organize a simple and cooperative system. I added the dimension of proximity because the international is first played in the territories.

The Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Region appears precisely as a relevant model of territorial action

Lyon and the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region are not just any territory. Its export performance is not due to chance but to an ecosystem of economic and institutional actors who very early understood the interest of playing collectively. This is why Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is a test region in this new system with partners who have been accomplices for a very long time. The export battle, I repeat, is played out in the territories and we must be accountable to taxpayers in this quest for performance by keeping it simple and listening to businesses.

We have thus established a structuring agreement with the CCIR Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes which we have proposed to the Region. Thus, 40 agents from our two structures are mobilized to contact companies in the area. And for the first time, they have goals. First, meet as many companies as possible previously targeted (note: 40,000 companies nationally and 7,000 in the Aura region). It is then a question of qualifying these companies and having knowledge of their level of internationalization. This is followed by a recommendation phase following targeting to bring out their strengths and mitigate their handicaps in order to establish an action plan: training, financing, etc. When a company with potential has been identified, such as a high-level athlete, we find him a team, a coach, in short, we put the means in place to make him competitive.

We often talk about a lack of international culture for French companies… What do you think?

This is a little less true today and all the more so in Auvergne-Rhône-Apes thanks to a fabric of sufficiently large family businesses which were able to set off on foreign markets very early on. They also resemble their Swiss, German or northern Italian counterparts because of their geographical proximity.

In our country more generally we do not have an international culture as advanced as in other countries. We believe that there is a role for public authorities to get our businesses up and running.

Conversely, there is no obligation for an SME to know all the countries of the world. The real question is, “Where do I start? “. Our mission is to save them as much time as possible between targeting a market and deploying it locally.

“We have a handicap of economic presence internationally but a powerful diplomatic network”.

France, on the other hand, has a historically dense network of ambassadors. What about economic diplomacy?

We are ranked among the top three countries in the world for our network of ambassadors after the United States and China. France thus has interests in many countries that are sometimes remote but strategic. In Australia, for example, with which we have the largest maritime border in the world via New Caledonia, or in Brazil, with which we have the largest land border via Guyana. We therefore have a handicap of economic presence internationally but a powerful diplomatic network.

The ambassadors have done a tremendous job as part of our Team France Export system. What we do in France in the territories, they organize it in the countries where they are on assignment to set up public-private partnerships with local players.

When a company goes abroad to prospect, it typically meets local operational staff: suppliers, sales agents, etc. It is necessary to have recourse to more sophisticated advice such as lawyers or human resources experts. In this, Chambers of Commerce or locally established private service providers are essential. Our backwardness in terms of international culture implies that the public offer is associated with the private one. In this, the role of ambassadors is essential.

Is the approach of large groups that lead SMEs and ETIs on foreign markets still a logic of international deployment?

It depends on the destinations. In Africa, for example, many countries are growing where the margins can be substantial. Having large groups already present necessarily opens up business opportunities. This is also the case in Australia. The sale of submarines by DCNS (today Naval Group) to the army provided good economic prospects for our country.

The other approach is based on free trade agreements negotiated with certain governments. The significant reduction in customs duties for certain destinations offers possibilities for SMEs which can thus attack these markets directly. I am thinking of the FTA recently concluded with Japan (note: entered into force in February 2019) which, for example, benefits the entire wine sector and more broadly the food industry.

Its key dates

2017: (Sept.) appointed Managing Director of Business France

(Feb.) French Ambassador to Serbia

2014 : French Ambassador to Australia

2008: appointed CEO of Ubifrance

2002: technical adviser to the office of the Minister of Economy, Finance and Industry

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