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Macron urges 140 world CEOs to 'choose France' at Versailles

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French President Emmanuel Macron visits Toyota's plant with director Luciano Biondo (R) in Onnaing, France, on Monday REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Some 140 CEOs from around the world were to meet Emmanuel Macron and 15 of his ministers at the world-famous Versailles château on Monday, as part of the French president's efforts to attract foreign investment. Several firms were expected to announce new projects in France, with Facebook leading the way with a major announcement on Sunday night.


Macron's pro-business policies have been enthusiastically received by French and international bosses - a survey conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce and management consultants Bain & Company in November showed 72 percent of US investors optimistic about the French economy's prospects, compared to 30 percent in 2016.

But good timing was the main factor in attracting such a large number of business leaders to the president's "Choose France" get-together.

The Davos World Economic Forum opens in neighbouring Switzerland on Tuesday and this year's bumper crop of CEOs are some of the 1,700 business leaders on their way to it.

Macron to meet select few

Among their number are Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein, JP Morgan's Jamie Dimon and Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg.

Rolls Royce, SAP, UPS, Bosch, GlaxoSmithKline, Novo Nordisk, Novartis, Cisco, Google, Alibaba and JD.com will also be represented.

Half of them are from Europe-based companies, a quarter American and another quarter from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

They were to meet ministers to discuss the practicalities of investing in France during the afternoon, with Macron making an appearance at the end of the day.

Macron himself was to have one-on-one meetings with Sandberg, Google's Sundar Pichai, Novartis's Vasant Narasimhan and SAP's Bill McDermot.

Earlier in the afternoon Macron visited a Toyota factory in northern France - the occasion for the company to announce 300 million euros in new investment and the creation of 700 jobs.

Several other firms were expected to promise "significant" investments during the Versailles meeting.

Facebook had already set the example overnight with a promise to train 65,000 people and expand its European base in Paris.

Foreign investment rises

France is now home to Europe's biggest start-up hub, Station F, financed by telecoms moghul Xavier Niel with help from the previous government and Paris city council.

Macron's government is reaping the benefit of several other factors not of its own making - Socialist president François Hollande introduced new visas for start-uppers, state investment bank Bpifrance, set up in 2013, has played a leading role in helping them, French universities have a reputation for producing talented engineers, the prospect of Brexit frightens many businesses, and US President Donald Trump is considered unpredictable.

Foreign direct investment rose 16 percent in 2016 before Macron came to power.

But investment firm Atomico credited Macron with fuelling higher optimism in France than anywhere else in Europe in its 2017 State of European Tech report, not least thanks to his tax cuts for the wealthy.

Britain remained the biggest recipient of venture capital funding at 4.4 billion euros, however, with France behind on 1.7 billion -- but France closed the most deals, it noted.

Since then Trump has outdone Macron in the tax-cut competition, lowering company tax from 35 percent to 21 percent and French growth and unemployment rates have yet to see substantial benefits from rising investment.

GDP is expected to rise a modest 1.7 percent in 2017 and 2018 and only 30,108 jobs were created by foreign investment in 2016, a fall of 11 percent on the previous year.

... and on to Davos

Macron is among the leaders of 60 countries who will attend Davos.

He is to speak on Wednesday, the day before Trump, and will give an outline his "international vision for the world of tomorrow", according to his office.

Despite being a supporter of globalisation, he will warn of three major challenges - growing inequality, environmental protection and the rise of nationalism and "extremism".