His name has become synonymous with legal scandal. If Business France has made headlines in recent months, it has nothing to do with our trade deficit. The agency, which is responsible for our companies ‘attractiveness and support for exports, is the subject of a judicial inquiry favoring Havas’ services without tendering during the organization of an expensive Las Vegas night in 2016. current Minister of Labor Murielle Pénicaud, then CEO of the Agency. The 1,500 employees who suffered from the horrors of a search in June therefore waited impatiently for the arrival of his successor to finally be able to move on. And it was finally Christophe Lecourtier who was elected by the Elysée. His appointment will be formalized in the coming days by the Elysée.
A public-private partnership
This 54-year-old senior finance minister is making a comeback in the house: he led Ubifrance from 2008 to 2014, just before the latter merged with the French International Investment Agency, to feed Business France. . His profile suited the ministers concerned. Lecourtier, who is stuck in right-wing ministerial offices, including Christine Lagardes in Bercy, has already rubbed shoulders with Emmanuel Moulin, the current chief of staff to finance minister Bruno Le Maire.
After that, he worked as an ambassador to Australia until April 2017, also with the head of the Quai d’Orsay, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who was then in the defense. Together, they won the largest French military contract in history: the sale of twelve submarines for 35 billion euros, at the end of 2016. “Everyone mobilized to provide political and financial support to the DCNS group is a good model,” says the new DIRECTOR.
At Business France, Lecourtier is flanked by a new (non-executive) president, Pascal Cagni, former vice president of Apple Europe and founder of C4 Ventures, a venture capital fund based in London and Paris. “I think the unions and staff have been reassured by the appointment of a complementary public-private tandem, which is a sign of this government’s ambition for the agency.”
The challenge that awaits them is daunting. For ten years, the reforms have continued to follow one another, without the results having really been there. Before the birth of Business France, its ancestor Ubifrance had already absorbed the officials from the previous economic missions at the embassies, under the auspices of Lecourtiers. And greater coordination should see the light of day with the “French export team” apparatus.
Alas, the number of exporting companies – 124,000 in 2016 – is only stagnating. They are even less numerous than in the early 2000s! Suffice it to say that the goal set by Jean-Yves Le Drian this week, to aim for 200,000, seems a bit ambitious. In terms of trade deficit, it reached 34.4 billion in the first half of 2017, a record since 2012. Even removing oil imports (and arms sales), it continues to grow from 5 to 23 billion in five years due to the deterioration of French companies market shares.
“Despite the reforms, the world of foreign trade is still too heterogeneous, too fragmented, it is not clear to companies, and in particular to SMEs,” admits Christophe Lecourtier. Several parliamentary reports have condemned the diversity of actors. The regions for which the state has strengthened its powers with regard to economic development have their own business support bodies. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) also has 400 territorial advisers dedicated to international development. Not to mention the network of CCIs abroad, which employs 1,100 people, the 3,800 voluntary foreign trade advisers and the various private export support companies.
The Bpifrance threat
Business France also faces competition from Bpifrance. The public bank will only provide financing expertise when Business France brings its market expertise. In fact, Bpifrance’s initiatives in communicating and organizing international fairs are interfering with the flower beds of its less economically wealthy cousin.
During the presidential campaign, Bruno Le Maire, then a candidate for the right-wing primary, also envisioned a radical solution: to create a single export service under Bpifrance, of which Business France would become a simple subsidiary. The current finance minister even mentioned the closure of Business France’s branches in the EU, whose services would be provided by the CCIs.
But Lecourtier assures that he and Cagni were not appointed to play bankrupt. “By the end of the year, my mission is to take stock of the first three years of establishment and come up with proposals for an ambitious, more efficient and more economical system.” In particular, Business France, which invoices some of its services to companies, will have to increase its own resources, while the subsidy paid by the state (EUR 100 million) will continue to fall.