It’s not just luxury companies worried about how China’s anti-corruption crackdown will affect the sales of high-end goods: France’s government considers it a matter of national importance.
That was the message sent yesterday when Claude Bartolone, the president of the National Assembly of France, addressed the issue in a press conference while on a diplomatic visit to China. According to him, French brands shouldn’t worry about China’s new regulations regarding official “gifting” and scrutiny of local bureaucrats’ lavish lifestyles. “French companies will continue to pay attention to the China market; they will continue to spread France’s high-quality goods and the French dream in China,” he said.
France and China are gearing up to celebrate their 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations, in which the trade of luxury goods has played a major part. In May, luxury was a key topic in Sino-French trade talks, as France hopes that its luxury exports will help to balance out its $34 billion trade deficit with China. Luxury conglomerate Kering owner François-Henri Pinault played a large role in Sino-French negotiations this year when he accompanied a French diplomatic mission to China to announce his historic donation of a pair of bronze zodiac heads looted from the Qing Summer Palace in 1860. The heads had been a sore spot between the two governments since 2009, when Christie’s put the heads up for auction in France, and the French government had not intervened despite the Chinese government’s insistence that the heads were rightfully China’s.
In late January, France will be hosting a lavish four-day series of events entitled “Nuit de Chine” to celebrate both the anniversary and Chinese New Year. However, it appears that exports aren’t the only thing on the government’s agenda: it also recognizes the importance of incoming Chinese tourists, whose love for luxury shopping has boosted France’s domestic sales. The French government is launching a 48-hour visa program for Chinese tourists in time for the New Year travel season, allowing the country to compete with other locations rapidly breaking down visa barriers in order to attract these high-spending visitors.
Luxury goods play a major role in other European governments’ relations with China. Watches were a major factor in Swiss-China trade talks in May 2013, when China and Switzerland signed a “watch memorandum” intended to gradually cut down on tariffs for Swiss watches exported to China.