French firms set to suffer from Turkish anger over genocide bill

ANKARA (AFP) – With perhaps an eye on Turkey’s precarious bid to join the European Union, Turkish officials have so far rejected calls for an out-and-out boycott of French goods to protest a bill making it a crime to deny Turks committed genocide against Armenians in World War I. But the government is still weighing other responses which may hit French firms, from blocking the country’s defense and energy companies from bidding for multimillion-euro contracts to the more symbolic, such as lawmakers replacing their official Peugeot cars. And although an official ban is unlikely, consumers and businesses are set to cold-shoulder French goods, nearly 5 billion euros’ (6.25 billion dollars’) worth of which entered Turkey last year. Last Thursday the lower house of the French National Assembly passed a bill making it a crime to deny that the 1915-1917 massacres of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks constituted genocide. The bill must be approved by the French upper house and by President Jacques Chirac before it becomes law. In 2005 France and Turkey exchanged goods worth more than 8 billion euros, and French imports to Turkey were worth 4.7 billion euros. Commercial ties between the two countries run deep. Some 250 French companies have strong links with Turkey stretching back many years. Carmaker Renault, for example, employs hundreds of people at a factory in the northwest of the country. As a result Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, together with the country’s more liberal newspapers, has appealed for calm and not to launch a campaign which might end up hurting Turks more than the French. «What do we have to win or lose by boycotting products?… We should consider that with a great deal of caution,» Erdogan said on Friday, adding that his government would proceed with calm.