Identifies common practices to be aware of when selling in this market, e.g., whether all sales material need to be in the local language.
Selling your product or service in France is similar to selling it in the United States. Buying decisions are made based on quality, price, and after-sales service, however in France, language should be noted. Since August 1994, the “Loi Toubon” requires that all advertising, labeling, instructions, and promotional programs be in French, so we strongly recommend close contact with the Commercial and Agricultural sections in the Embassy, as well as arranging for local legal representation.
Alternatively, search the Commerce Department’s Market Research Library, available from:
Market Intelligence under Country and Industry Market Reports.
Trade Promotion & Advertising
Laws against misleading advertisements differ widely from member state to member state within the EU. To respond to this issue in the internal market, the Commission adopted a directive, in force since October 1986, to establish minimum and objective criteria regarding truth in advertising. The Directive was amended in October 1997 to include comparative advertising. Under the Directive, misleading advertising is defined as any “advertising which in any way, including its presentation, deceives or is likely to deceive the persons to whom it is addressed or whom it reaches and which, by reason of its deceptive nature, is likely to affect their economic behavior or which for those reasons, injures or is likely to injure a competitor.” Member States can authorize even more extensive protection under their national laws.
Comparative advertising, subject to certain conditions, is defined as “advertising which explicitly or by implication identifies a competitor or goods or services of a competitor.” Member States can, and in some cases have, restricted misleading or comparative advertising.
The EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AMSD) lays down legislation on broadcasting activities allowed within the EU. Since 2009, the rules allowing for U.S.-style product placement on television and the three-hour/day maximum of advertising has been lifted. However, a 12-minute/hour maximum remains. The AMSD is currently under revision. The European Commission is aiming to extend the scope of the Directive to video-sharing platforms which tag and organize the content. The Commission is also aiming to provide more flexibility about the 12-minute/hour maximum restriction. Children’s programming is subject to a code of conduct that includes a limit on junk food advertising to children. Following the adoption of the 1999 Council Directive on the Sale of Consumer Goods and Associated Guarantees, product specifications, as laid down in advertising, are considered as legally binding on the seller.
The EU adopted Directive 2005/29/EC concerning fair business practices in a further attempt to tighten consumer protection rules. These rules outlaw several aggressive or deceptive marketing practices such as pyramid schemes, “liquidation sales” when a shop is not closing down, and artificially high prices as the basis for discounts in addition to other potentially misleading advertising practices. Certain rules on advertising to children are also set out.
Key Links: Misleading Advertising ec.europa.eu/consumers/consumer_rights/unfair-trade/false-advertising/index_en.htm ; Unfair Commercial Practices Directive; ec.europa.eu/consumers/consumer_rights/unfair-trade/unfair-practices/index_en.htm ; Audio video Media Services; ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/audiovisual-media-services-directive-avmsd
The advertising of medicinal products for human use is regulated by Council Directive 2001/83/EC, as amended by Directive 2004/27/EC. Generally speaking, the advertising of medicinal products is forbidden if market authorization has not yet been granted or if the product in question is a prescription drug. Mentioning therapeutic indications where self-medication is not suitable is not permitted, nor is the distribution of free samples to the general public. The text of the advertisement should be compatible with the characteristics listed on the product label and should encourage rational use of the product. The advertising of medicinal products destined for professionals should contain essential characteristics of the product as well as its classification. Inducements to prescribe or supply a medicinal product are prohibited and the supply of free samples is restricted.
Key Link: Health and Medicine
Nutrition & Health Claims
On July 1, 2007, a regulation on nutrition and health claims entered into force. Regulation 1924/2006 sets EU-wide conditions for the use of nutrition claims such as “low fat” or “high in vitamin C” and health claims such as “helps lower cholesterol.” The regulation applies to any food or drink product produced for human consumption that is marketed in the EU. Only foods that fit a certain nutrient profile (below certain salt, sugar and/or fat levels) are allowed to carry claims. Nutrition and health claims are only allowed on food labels if they are included in one of the EU’s positive lists. Food products carrying claims must comply with the provisions of nutritional labeling Directive 90/496/EC and its amended version Directive 1169/2011.
In December 2012, a list of approved functional health claims went into effect. The list includes generic claims for substances other than botanicals which will be evaluated at a later date. Disease risk reduction claims and claims referring to the health and development of children require an authorization on a case-by-case basis, following the submission of a scientific dossier to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Health claims based on new scientific data will have to be submitted to EFSA for evaluation, but a more simplified authorization procedure has been established.
The development of nutrient profiles, originally scheduled for January 2009, has been delayed. The original proposal has been withdrawn. In October 2015, the European Commission released a new roadmap on the potential development of nutrient profiles and botanicals. To obtain stakeholders’ inputs, two consultations and an external study was launched in mid-2017. The European Commission is now assessing the opportunity to proceed with a proposal and then potentially draft it. Nutrition claims, in place since 2006, can fail one criterion, i.e. if only one nutrient (salt, sugar or fat) exceeds the limit of the profile, a claim can still be made provided the high level of that particular nutrient is clearly marked on the label. For example, a yogurt can make a low-fat claim even if it has high sugar content but only if the label clearly states “high sugar content.” A European Union Register of nutrition claims has been established and is updated regularly. Health claims cannot fail any criteria.
Detailed information on the EU’s Nutrition and Health Claims policy can be found on the USEU/FAS website at USEU/FAS website and in the USDA Food and Agricultural Import Regulations and Standards EU 28 2017
Food Information to Consumers
In 2015, the EU adopted a new regulation on novel foods (2015/2283) amending the provision of food information to consumers (1169/2011). Novel foods and food ingredients must not present a danger for the consumer or mislead him and should not differ from the ingredients that they are intended to replace to such an extent that normal consumption would represent a nutritional disadvantage for the consumer. It is important to mention that the European Commission may decide, on its own initiative or upon a request by a Member State, by means of implementing acts (a sort of decree), whether or not a particular food falls within the definition of novel food. More information can be found on the Commission’s website. Most provisions of this new Novel Foods Regulation become applicable on January 1, 2018.
Detailed information on the EU’s new food labeling rules can be found on the USEU/FAS website at EU Labelling Requirements and in the USDA Food and Agricultural Import Regulations and Standards EU 28 2017
Key link: Provision on Food Information
Directive 2002/46/EC harmonizes the rules on labeling of food supplements and introduces specific rules on vitamins and minerals in food supplements. Ingredients other than vitamins and minerals are still regulated by Member States.
Regulation 1925/2006, applicable as of July 1, 2007, harmonizes rules on the addition of vitamins and minerals to foods. The regulation lists the vitamins and minerals that may be added to foods. This list was most recently revised in 2014. A positive list of substances other than vitamins and minerals has not been established yet, although it is being developed. Until then, member state laws will govern the use of these substances.
Key Link: Labelling Nutrition Supplements
The EU Tobacco Advertising Directive bans tobacco advertising in printed media, radio, and internet as well as the sponsorship of cross-border events or activities. Advertising in cinemas and on billboards or merchandising is allowed, though these are banned in many Member States. Tobacco advertising on television has been banned in the EU since the early 1990s and is governed by the Audiovisual Media Services Directive. A 2016 revision to the legislation includes the requirement for bigger, double-sided health pictorial warnings on cigarette packages and possibility for plain packaging along with health warnings, tracking systems.
Key link: Tobacco Products
France is a highly competitive market in which the French importer is looking for the best quality at the lowest price. American products and technology are highly regarded but do not command higher prices than comparable products. It is important to remember that while France is a significant market in its own right, it is also one of the ports of entry to the European Union and associate country-members for many imports with final destinations all throughout Europe and other overseas markets. This characteristic gives local buyers access to a wide range of products at competitive prices.
U.S. companies are advised to quote prices on a Cost Insurance Freight (CIF) basis, surface or airfreight. This is standard practice for most exporters since it facilitates price comparison between EU suppliers. Import duties are usually quoted on a delivered to warehouse basis.
Value Added Tax (VAT)
The EU’s VAT system is semi-harmonized. While the guidelines are set out at the EU level, the implementation of VAT policy is the prerogative of Member States. The EU VAT Directive allows Member States to apply a minimum 15% VAT rate, however, they may apply reduced rates for specific goods and services or temporary derogations. Therefore, the examination of VAT rates by Member State is strongly recommended. These and other rules are laid out in the VAT Directive.
The EU applies Value Added Tax (VAT) to sales by non-EU based companies of Electronically Supplied Services (ESS) to EU-based non-business customers. U.S. companies that are covered by the rule must collect and submit VAT to EU tax authorities. From January 1, 2015, all supplies of telecommunications, broadcasting and electronic services are taxable at the place where the customer resides. In the case of businesses, this means either the country where it is registered or the country where it has fixed premises receiving the service. In the case of consumers, it is where they are registered, have their permanent address, or usually live.
As part of the legislative changes of 2015, the Commission launched the Mini One Stop Shop (MOSS) scheme, the use of which is optional. It is meant to facilitate the sales of ESS from taxable to non-taxable persons (B2C) located in Member States in which the sellers do not have an establishment to account for the VAT.
This plan allows taxable persons (sellers) to avoid registering in each Member State of consumption. A taxable person who is registered for the Mini One Stop Shop in a Member State (the Member State of Identification) can electronically submit quarterly Mini One Stop Shop VAT returns detailing supplies of ESS to non-taxable persons in other Member States (the Member State(s) of consumption), along with the VAT due.
The Commission has received numerous complaints in relation to the new rules on ESS and is in the process of revising them (draft proposal).
Further information relating to VAT on ESS:
Key links to French VAT: Value Added Taxe Rates in France – French Ministry of economy
Sales Service/Customer Support
Conscious of the discrepancies among Member States in product labeling, language use, legal guarantee and liability, the redress of which inevitably frustrates consumers in cross-border shopping, the EU institutions have launched several initiatives aimed at harmonizing national legislation. Suppliers within and outside the EU should be aware of existing and upcoming legislation affecting sales, service and customer support.
Local Professional Services
Local service providers focusing on EU law, consulting, and business development can be viewed on the website maintained by the Commercial Service at the U.S. Mission to the European Union.
For information on professional services located within each of the EU Member States, please see EU member state Country Commercial Guides which can be found at the following website EU Member States’ Country Commercial Guides
Under the 1985 Directive on Liability of Defective Products, amended in 1999, the producer is liable for damage caused by a defect in his product. The victim must prove the existence of the defect and a causal link between defect and injury (bodily as well as material). A reduction of liability of the manufacturer is granted in cases of negligence on the part of the victim. The first step in the review process of this law was launched at the end of 2016.
Key link: Liability of Defective Products
The 1992 General Product Safety Directive introduced a general safety requirement at the EU level to ensure that manufacturers only place safe products on the market. It was revised in 2001 to include an obligation on the producer and distributor to notify the Commission in case of a problem with a given product, provisions for its recall, the creation of a European Product Safety Network, and a ban on exports of products to third countries that are not deemed safe in the EU. The legislation is still undergoing review.
Key link: Product Safety Legislation
Legal Warranties and After-sales Service
Under the 1999 Directive on the Sale of Consumer Goods and Associated Guarantees, professional sellers are required to provide a minimum two-year warranty on all consumer goods sold to consumers (natural persons acting for purposes outside their trade, businesses or professions), as defined by the Directive. The remedies available to consumers in case of non-compliance are:
- Repair of the good(s);
- Replacement of the good(s);
- A price reduction; or
- Rescission of the sales contract.
Other issues pertaining to consumers’ rights and protection, such as the New Approach Directives, CE marking, quality control and data protection are dealt with in the Trade Regulations section of this report.
Key link: Sales and Guarantees.
Organizations in Brussels focused on representing U.S. business interests and engaging with EU institutions including the European Commission, European Parliament and the Council include: AmChamEU
Principal Business Associations in France
Market Research Firms in France
U.S. Banks in France
Logistics and Transportation Services in France
Country Government Agencies
Other Country Government Sub-Agencies