France is one of the world's major economic powers. Agriculture plays a larger role than in the economies of most other industrial countries. A large proportion of the value of total agricultural output derives from livestock (especially cattle, hogs, poultry, and sheep). The mountain areas and NW France are the livestock regions. The country's leading crops are wheat, sugar beets, corn, barley, and potatoes, with the most intensive cultivation N of the Loire; the soil in the Central Massif is less fertile. Fruit growing is important in the south. France is among the foremost producers of wine in the world. The best-known vineyards are in Burgundy, Champagne, the Rhône and Loire valleys, and the Bordeaux region. The centers of the wine trade are Bordeaux, Reims, Épernay, Dijon, and Cognac.
France's leading industries produce machinery, chemicals, automobiles, metals, aircraft, electronics equipment, textiles, and foods (especially cheeses). Advanced technology industries are also important. Coal, iron ore, bauxite, and other minerals are mined. Tourism is an important industry, and Paris is famous for its luxury goods. Nuclear energy furnishes 75% of all electricity produced in France. In addition to the Paris area, important industrial cities are, in the northeast, Metz, Strasbourg, Roubaix, and Lille; in the southeast, Lyons, Saint-Étienne, Clermont-Ferrand, and Grenoble; in the south, Marseilles, Toulouse, Nice, and Nîmes; and in the west, Bordeaux and Nantes. Other important cities are Orléans, Tours, Troyes, and Arles.
France has an extensive railway system, the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF). The first of a number of high-speed rail lines (TGVs) was completed in 1983, linking Paris and Lyons. Subsequent lines connected Paris to several other French cities, as well as Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and, via the Channel Tunnel, Great Britain.
The government at one time had majority ownership in many commercial banks, some key industries, and various utilities, including the telephone system. The government has since reduced its holdings in many companies, although it still controls energy production, public transportation, and defense industries.
Leading exports are machinery and transportation equipment, aircraft, plastics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, iron and steel, and beverages. Leading imports are machinery and equipment, vehicles, crude oil, aircraft, plastics, and chemicals. Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Great Britain, and the United States are the main trading partners. The chief ports are Rouen, Le Havre, Cherbourg, Brest, Saint-Nazaire, Nantes, Bordeaux, Toulon, Dunkirk, and Marseilles.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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