France comes calling for B.C. technology companies

French officials push lifestyle benefits to maintain Canadian investment momentum

Patrick Imbert, director for Canada of the French trade organization Business France: “we are seeing this as … a refresh of our trade relationship” | Submitted

French officials are focusing on B.C.’s tech sector in a bid to attract more investment from Canada after a similar pitch last year triggered a sharp boost in business.

Patrick Imbert, director for Canada of the French national trade and investment agency Business France, said the number of investment projects in France involving Canadian companies jumped about 30% last year.

The surge in investment comes as Paris steps up its efforts to establish more Canadian business partnerships, in part because the passing of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union has spurred more French interest in the Canadian market.

“French people love Canada, but the level of trade had been stagnant for the last 10 years [prior to CETA],” Imbert said. “So we are seeing this as an ‘appel d’air’ – a refresh of our trade relationship – and we can use CETA as a way to raise people’s interests.”

Imbert noted that France has not yet ratified CETA but is expected to next year. In the meantime, he said, even the attention brought about by CETA is good news for France-Canada trade and investment.

Imbert was in Vancouver in late November to meet with representatives of about 30 B.C. companies that are interested in investing in France – more than two-thirds of them from the technology sector.

Under President Emmanuel Macron, France has been trying to shed its image as being unfriendly to business and investment. That image has dogged the nation’s international economic profile in past decades even as neighbouring Germany and Great Britain reaped the benefits of a more welcoming business profile.

Paris began reducing corporate income taxes this year with the aim of cutting the rate to 25% by 2022 from the current 33.33%. France is also expected to begin automatically deducting people’s income tax directly from their paycheques starting next January to bring it in line with practices found elsewhere in Europe.

Even with the tax reforms, France’s high level of education, skilled-worker base and easy access to the rest of Europe, Imbert said a few B.C. companies with a presence in France are focusing on things like quality of life as a key draw in trying to persuade more of their fellow B.C. firms to land in France.

“We had two companies speak at the Vancouver roundtable – Stemcell Technologies, which has been in France for 20 years, and Empowered Startups Ltd., which just started,” Imbert said. “Both have French operations based in Grenoble, in the Alps not far from the Italian border. It’s a tech city that you can compare to Vancouver in a lot of ways, because you have the mountains and you have people skiing. And in business, Grenoble has a lot of startups like Vancouver in the tech industry.”

But French officials also said they were more proactive this year in bringing up the challenges of doing business in France, because they did not want B.C. companies to get into something they were not prepared for. Imbert stressed that companies that are interested need to focus on their own business strategy – preferably considering the whole European market instead of just France.

“What I chose for [the roundtable discussion] is that, if the questions about the challenges and concerns about investing in France aren’t coming, we brought up those questions ourselves, to tell people up front what it takes to invest, because for any companies to invest in a foreign market, there are perils. But we are also lucky we had B.C. companies who can give insights on their roads to doing businesses in France.”

There are currently 250 Canadian companies investing in France, employing approximately 28,000 people in that country.

In 2017, exports from Canada to France reached $3.4 billion (half of which involved the tech sector), and French exports to Canada were valued at $6.2 billion. France ranks ninth among Canada’s top trade partners.