SocGen sees Africa as route to China

SocGen sees Africa as route to China
By Scheherazade Daneshkhu in Casablanca
The Financial Times [Published: November 14 2010 20:59]

Africa is becoming a route to China for Société Générale as the French bank targets Chinese companies doing business in the mineral-rich continent as part of its African expansion strategy.

Bernardo Sanchez Incera, SocGen's deputy chief executive in charge of international consumer banking, said the group's expansion in China has been limited by local restrictions.

But it is able to access part of the explosive growth in Chinese commercial activity in Africa, particularly in the sub-Sahara, where Chinese companies are more present than in the north.

China has become Africa's third most important trading partner over the past decade after the US and the European Union, as it invests in large infrastructure projects in return for imports of natural resources.

"Our presence in China is limited," said Mr Sanchez Incera, referring to restrictions on foreign ownership of Chinese banks. "In Africa, Chinese companies need a local agent who knows the international rules of the game."

SocGen has agreements with the Central Bank of China and Bank of China to provide advice and retail accounts, but not finance, to the Chinese banks' corporate clients.

President Nicolas Sarkozy sees France's historical position in Africa as a key advantage in strengthening the Franco-Chinese relationship. The subject was broached in talks with Chinese president Hu Jintao on his recent state visit to Paris. "There are 1m Chinese living on the African continent," said a senior presidential adviser. "There is an opportunity for the French to create a partnership in the development of the continent."

SocGen has a presence in 15 African countries, where it employs 13,000 people in 850 branches. Chinese interest is most marked in Senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

In north Africa, SocGen aims to double the number of clients and increase the number of branches by 60 per cent by 2015.

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