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Business in Paris

Business Profile:

France is the fourth largest economic power in the world in terms of GDP and the second largest exporter of services and agricultural products. Paris and the Ile-de-France region are responsible for 30% of the country's total GDP, roughly equivalent to the GDP of London and Brussels combined.

The Paris region is predominantly a service economy, followed in importance by commerce, industry, construction and agriculture. In the Ile-de-France, there are about 550,000 companies and about 260,000 in Paris itself. Particular strengths are in pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, publishing and research, with Paris ranking first in Europe in terms of research development. Five of the French banks (including Credit Agricole, BNP and the Caisse d'Epargne) are among the 12 largest commercial banks in Europe.

The excellent transport and telecommunications network, highly skilled workforce, quality of life and prestige of Paris have encouraged companies to locate in the city, which hosts 38 'Fortune 500 International' company headquarters (ranking second in the world after Tokyo). Many others, including Sony and the National Bastketball Association, IBM, Hewlett Packard France, Siemens and Motorola have a presence in Paris. In total, the French capital has attracted about 2400 foreign companies and 420 foreign banks.

Paris attracts 35 million visitors annually and is considered to be the world's most popular international conference venue. Its 1200 annual conventions include 300 international conferences and 300 trade shows. The city also earns more than FFr23 billion a year from business tourism and in excess of FFr65 billion from tourist visits. That said, the economy is not in a bouyant state at the moment. Economic growth was below 3% in 1999, unemployment remains a steady 11-12%, and there are said to be 50,000 homeless people on the streets and in the metro stations.

The main business districts are located in the 8th around the avenue des Champs-Elysees, 2nd, where the Bourse (stock exchange) is located near to rue de la Banque in a grand First Empire building and the smart 16th arrondissement. The futuristic business district La Defense is home to the huge CNIT exhibition hall and Elf, Gan and Fiat.

Business Etiquette: A degree of Parisian aggression and plenty of persistence is necessary when attempting business in the capital. However, firmness, not rudeness, is in order. At the first meeting, non-French speakers should apologise for their lack of linguistic aptitude and respect the local formality, addressing colleagues with the appropriate Madame, Monsieur, Professeur or Docteur followed by the surname and a handshake. Business cards (preferably in French and English) should be presented. Small talk is an essential part of business, so it is wise to do a quick refresher on French politics and culture prior to the meeting and not to rush straight to the serious stuff. Smart, conservative, dress is recommended. Standard business hours are 0830/0900-1800/1900. Lunches may last for two hours or more (so it is best to schedule meetings at 1100 or 1500, unless for lunch itself). Business lunches are popular, working dinners common and breakfast meetings an increasing trend. Whoever fixes the meeting is expected to settle the bill. Conducting business in August - during the Parisian exodus to the south - is to be avoided at all costs.

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