Coca-Cola Enterprises says it stands by France

AP News
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Posted: Sep 08, 2011 6:17 PM
Coca-Cola Enterprises says it stands by France

Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. reconfirmed its investment in France on Thursday following reports that the company would put a major investment in a French plant on hold to protest a proposed tax on sodas.

The company, which is based in Atlanta, bottles and markets Coca-Cola drinks worldwide.

Earlier in the day, company leaders in France said that the bottler had put its plans for a $24 million (17 million euros) investment in its factory in Pennes-Mirabeau in southern France on hold, pending parliament's debate on the tax. The tax is part of the French government's efforts to shrink its huge debts.

Company leaders said that Coca-Cola is ready to participate in budget austerity efforts, but considers the tax unfair because it targets drinks that are "not harmful to health."

Coca-Cola Enterprises said in a statement later on Thursday that it regretted the confusion and reconfirmed its investment in the facility.

"Let there be no doubt, and let me say it as a Frenchman: Coca-Cola is committed to France," said Hubert Patricot, president of the European Group for Coca-Cola Enterprises.

Patricot said the company remains strongly opposed to the tax, which it says "unjustly targets the purchasing power of the French people and one category of beverages under the pretext of addressing public health concerns."

France, like many rich countries, has seen a rise in obesity in recent years. The tax is part of a bill aimed at reducing the deficit of the public health care system, itself a component of a series of spending cuts and tax increases being discussed in parliament this month.

Coca-Cola Enterprises is lobbying French legislators and Health Ministry officials to drop the tax. It's not the only company to exert pressure on lawmakers. Leading French theme park owners successfully persuaded officials to drop a proposed tax hike on their parks as part of the new budget cutbacks.