Inspired by a long tradition of friendship and economic cooperation with China, Marseille Provence in France has emerged as one of Europe’s biggest supporters of the Belt & Road Initiative.

Marseille is among the top five sites in Europe for Economic Growth and a Prime Hub for projects linking China, Europe and Africa.

The Metro area has already attracted prominent Chinese companies including Cosco Shipping, PetroChina, Tinno Mobile and China Merchants Group, while telecommunications champions like China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom use Marseille as a digital gateway to the markets of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

With 60 billion euros (US$66.94 billion) in current infrastructure spending, Marseille Provence’s political and business leaders are committed to deepening this partnership by attracting New BRI Investments.

“The New Silk Road will create a cascade of opportunities,” said Jean-Luc Chauvin, President of the Provence Promotion Economic Development Agency and the Chamber of Commerce & Industry Marseille Provence.

“Marseille Provence is working hard to become a part of the BRI. We hope to re-create the days when we were the Gateway to the Orient.”

“The New Silk Road will create a cascade of opportunities. Marseille is working hard to become a part of the BRI”

A Perfect example of the growing relationship is Hengtong Group’s decision to make Marseille the landing spot for the Pakistan and East Africa Connecting Europe project, a 12,000-kilometre subsea cable that will connect Asia, Africa and Europe.

The metro area is already a hub for 14 subsea cables and carrier-neutral data centres that connect 4.5 billion internet users.

“Marseille is the preferred destination for the Middle East and Africa traffic,” said Sun Xiaohua, Chief Operating Officer for the PEACE cable. The ecosystem in Marseille currently is attractive for cables, especially if they serve Mediterranean Sea countries.

The  Maritime Economy also features flourishing cooperation between China and Marseille-Provence. When Weichai Power acquired Moteurs Baudouin, the combination of French savoir-faire and Chinese business intelligence resulted in skyrocketing sales.

Marseille also hosts the headquarters for shipping giant CMA CGM, which serves more than 160 countries and has 20,000 employees in China. And, in 2018, Port of Marseille and Shanghai International Port Group signed an agreement to cooperate in reducing environmental impact and optimising the flow of goods.

Another avenue for investment is Euromediterranee, the 14 billion euros urban renewal program that is transforming 480 hectares in downtown Marseille into a model Mediterranean smart city. Euromediterranee is the official French centre for North-South relations and home to global institutions such as the AFD development agency, the IRD research institute and the World Water Council.

Marseille Provence Airport is also expanding. Already the No 1 Regional Airport for express freight in the western Mediterranean, Marseille Provence is investing 500 million euros to accommodate long-haul traffic growth and facilitate direct routes to China.

Multinational companies are another part of the thriving partnership. Airbus Helicopters, STMicro-electronics, L’Occitane and Alteo are just a few of the Provence-based companies with a significant presence in China.

Beyond the economic sphere, Marseille Provence and China share scientific and educational initiatives. Provence is home to ITER, the 20 billion euros fusion energy project that features the biggest team of Chinese scientists outside China. Meanwhile, Aix-Marseille University has a joint institute with Wuhan University of Technology.

This tradition of cooperation led Gao Yuanyuan, the Trade Adviser at the Chinese Embassy in France, to declare that the BRI is a historic opportunity for Marseille Provence.

“Marseille can continue to use its location to link China’s trade with southern Europe and North Africa and to serve as a steppingstone between Asia and Europe,” Gao said at the France-China Economic Forum in Marseille.

“I am confident that with the support of the local government, Chinese companies will play a more important role in Marseille’s economy.”