June 25, 2018 / 10:30 AM / 22 days ago

China tells France an Airbus deal is still alive

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Monday Beijing was willing to continue talks over the purchase of Airbus (AIR.PA) jets after French President Emmanuel Macron failed to clinch a deal earlier this year.

Flag with Airbus logo is pictured at the Airbus A380 final assembly line at Airbus headquarters in Blagnac near Toulouse, France, March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

The French government and the European planemaker have been working to salvage the contract since a visit by Macron to China in January, when he said China would buy 184 Airbus A320 narrow-body jets, an order worth $18 billion at list prices.

Industry sources said Macron returned home empty handed after a diplomatic gaffe and some of his own separate comments upset Chinese officials.

Macron sent his prime minister, Edouard Philippe, to Beijing this weekend partly in a bid to move the negotiations forward.

At a joint news conference, Li said China had long been a large customer for Airbus aircraft, and noted their joint manufacturing facility in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin.

“I explained to Mr Prime minister that in recent years we have bought quite a lot of passenger aircraft, and there needs to be a period to digest this. In spite of this, we are still willing to strengthen cooperation with France’s Airbus,” Li said, adding China planned to buy lots of planes in 2018.

“We are willing to continue discussing the issue of buying Airbus aircraft and in due course to sign agreements to buy Airbus aircraft,” Li added.

Philippe said he was glad China had expressed its willingness to soon firm up its purchase commitment.

State-controlled China Eastern is seeking 150 single-aisle jets like the Airbus A320 or the competing Boeing (BA.N) 737, industry sources have said. They also say China’s ICBC Financial Leasing has expressed interest in placing an Airbus order.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Richard Lough and Michel Rose in Paris; writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Luke Baker and Mark Potter

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