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The French trade deficit, a critical issue for the government, fell slightly in August and the trend has improved sharply, official data showed on Tuesday.
France is running a big structural trade deficit in contrast to a huge surplus by Germany, and this largely reflects the difference in economic performance between the two top eurozone countries.
The left-wing government in France has made improving the competitive position of French industry a key plank of its economic policy.
The latest data from the customs service showed that in August the monthly deficit fell by 200 million euros ($271.4 million) to 4.9 billion euros from the figure for July owing to a fall in energy imports.
In the 12 months to the end of August, the trade balance showed a cumulative deficit of 60.0 billion euros, down from 67.2 billion euros in the whole of 2012.
"Supplies of energy and to the space industry fell in August. They also fell with regard to chemical and agricultural products, and for jewellery," the customs service said.
Exports fell slightly, however, owing to a weaker performance by the pharmaceutical, industrial equipment, oil refining and military-equipment sectors.
Exports amounted to 36.0 billion euros, showing a fall of 500 million euros from the figure for July.
Exports to Europe were firm but exports to the Americas and to Africa fell. But exports to Asia and the Middle East increased.
Imports fell by 700 million euros to 40.9 billion euros.
In Germany, official data showed that in adjusted terms, which take account of a summer lull in trade, Germany's August trade surplus widened to 15.6 billion euros ($21.2 billion), from an adjusted 15.0 billion euros in July.
However, for the year so far exports -- the driver of Europe's biggest economy -- fell 1.1 percent in the January-August period in nominal terms compared to the figure for the same period last year.