London Mayor Johnson blasts French Government, invites investors to Britain

Last Updated: Tue, Nov 27, 2012 15:50 hrs

London Mayor Boris Johnson on Tuesday mocked the French government over its handling of steel magnate Lakshmi Narayan Mittal's case while inviting Indian investors to set shop in Britain

On Monday, French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg had said that steelmaker Mittal, which acquired France's Arcelor in 2006, was no longer wanted in France due to years of broken promises, intensifying a row over plans to close two furnaces in northeastern France.

Montebourg's attack on ArcelorMittal, which he later qualified, risks exacerbating tensions in a dispute that is central to Socialist President Francois Hollande's efforts to save jobs and reverse years of industrial decline.

It came after Montebourg, one of the most left-wing ministers in the government, said last week that France could nationalise the company's Florange site on a temporary basis while the government tries to find a buyer.

ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steelmaker, has said it will shut down two blast furnaces at Florange from December 01 unless the government can find a buyer to operate them.

Diving into the controversy, Johnson told a meeting of Indian business and Industry leaders in New Delhi that the French Minister was eccentric enough to drive such a big investor out.

"I see the sans-culottes appear to have captured the government of Paris and a French minister has been so eccentric as to call for a massive investor to depart from France, I have no hesitation or embarrassment in saying to everyone here 'venez a Londres, mes amis', come to London, come to the business capital of the world, a place where 73 Indian firms are listed on the London Stock Exchange, where Indian companies already raise 53 percent of their international equity, a city that still has the largest banking and financial sector anywhere in the world, but which is at the cutting edge of the growth businesses of the future," said Johnson.

ArcelorMittal employs some 20,000 people across France. Last week, Montebourg said the government had received two offers from buyers interested in acquiring more than just the two blast furnaces, but gave no further details. ArcelorMittal has denied having received any such offers.

Johnson said London was the perfect investment destination for Indian businessmen looking to go abroad as he recounted the merits of the world's biggest financial centre.

He welcomed the proposal of the Indian government for opening multi-retail sector for Foreign Direct Investment and asked New Delhi to open more areas like insurance for foreign investors.

"I believe the scope for partnership is limitless and it is very exciting that India is now opening up for multiple brand retail and we have had some fascinating discussions already on this trip about the possibility of collaboration on the infrastructure and urbanisation projects, where both London and Delhi are engaged," said Johnson.

The government initiated the proposal to allow foreign supermarket chains such as Wal-Mart in September, which had triggered protest not only from opposition parties but also from some of its allies.

The move would allow global firms such as Wal-Mart Stores to set up shop with a local partner and sell directly to consumers for the first time, a move which supporters say could transform India's $450 billion retail market and tame inflation. (ANI)

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