French PM urges Brazil leadership in EU debt crisis

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French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Thursday his country needs the "leadership of Brazil and its president Dilma Rousseff" at a time when Europe faces "a confidence crisis" over its debt woes.

Fillon, who arrived here in Brazil Wednesday on the first leg of a four-day visit to Brazil, also called for an acceleration of the strategic partnership the two countries launched in 2008.

"We need the leadership of Brazil and its president Dilma Rousseff, of her convictions, and the example that her exceptional personal journey represents," he told Sao Paulo business leaders.

"At a time when Europe faces a confidence crisis, me must precisely now take advantage of the enormous potential offered by the strategic partnership between France and Brazil," he added.

"We want a development of this cooperation, naturally in the aeronautics sector as well as in the areas of space and high-speed train because our ties have clearly gone beyond the producer-consumer stage to reach that of a genuine, balanced partnership."

Meanwhile France and the Sao Paulo state government signed a letter of intent under which the French Development agency will fund a major part of the construction of a train that will link Sao Paulo's Guarulhos airport to the city center ahead of the 2014 football World Cup which Brazil will host.

The total cost of the project, expected to be operational in 2014, is $640 million, according to Sao Paulo state governor Geraldo Alckmin.

Fillon also said French companies want to increase their participation in Brazil's infrastructure, transport and aviation sectors.

Earlier Fillon told the business leaders that France was likely to face new "jolts" from the eurozone debt crisis amid rumors that it could lose its triple-A debt rating.

But he downplayed the risk of a downgrade, stressing that "what matters is not the judgment on a given day" of rating agencies but "the politically structured and rigorous budgetary trajectory that Europe, that France have decided to adopt."

"The crisis is not over and it is likely that we will have to face jolts. Markets and rating agencies have their own logic," he said. "They deal with the immediate, the instantaneous."

Two agencies, Standard & Poor's and Moody's, have warned that they are putting France and its EU partner's debt under scrutiny, and markets see Paris as likely to drop one or even two rungs on the ratings ladder.

Accompanied by three ministers and around 30 French business leaders, Fillon was to head to Brasilia later Thursday for talks with Rousseff on the eurozone debt crisis, bilateral trade and military sales.

Brazil, Latin America's dominant power and now the world's sixth biggest economy, posted 2010 GDP growth of 7.5 percent but expects growth of only 3.5 percent this year as a result of the eurozone debt crisis and the US economic slowdown.

Trade between France and Brazil totals more than seven billion euros ($9 billion) and some 500 French companies are operating in this country.

In an interview with the daily Folha de S.Paulo published Wednesday, Fillon said he was confident of selling Rafale fighter jets to Brazil and could beat off rival bids because the aircraft's technology cannot be matched.

The Rafale, a multi-role fighter jet, is competing against US aviation giant Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet and Swedish manufacturer Saab's Gripen jet for a tender from Brazil to supply 36 multi-role combat aircraft.

France is also supplying Brazil with four diesel-electric submarines and helping it develop the non-nuclear components of its first nuclear-powered fast attack submarine.

© 2011 AFP

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