PARIS (Reuters) - France's trade deficit shrank last year to its lowest level since 2010, although mainly because exports fell less quickly than imports, figures from the Trade Ministry showed on Friday.
The deficit fell by 6 billion euros ($8.2 billion) to 61.2 billion euros in 2013, as exports fell 1.3 percent and imports dropped by 2.3 percent against a weak economic background at home and across the euro zone, the data showed.
France's trade deficit, which hit a record of 74 billion euros in 2011, is one of the starkest signs of French firms' loss of competitiveness on international markets.
President Francois Hollande offered last month to phase out 30 billion euros ($40.8 billion) in charges on companies by 2017 to help make them more competitive and regain lost market share, marking a shift in policy towards supply-side economics.
Presenting the annual figures, Trade Minister Nicole Bricq said that a strong euro "weighed on exports" by making them less competitive against rivals using weaker currencies.
Imports fell last year largely because of a sharp drop in energy deliveries and lower oil prices while exports declined on weaker sales of metal products, chemicals, industrial machines and cars.
Exports to the United States grew by 1.5 percent last year, while they fell by 0.7 percent to the European Union, which took in 60 percent of France's exports.
"2014 is looking better," Bricq told journalists. "Our traditional trade partners are doing better and that's particularly the case of the euro zone - 47 percent of our exports - which has returned to growth."
Exports to Asia, the destination for 13 percent of France's foreign sales last year, dropped by 3.5 percent, reversing strong growth seen in recent years.
Separately, monthly trade figures from the customs office showed the deficit narrowed in December to 5.2 billion euros from 5.7 billion euros in November as exports grew 3.5 percent over the month, outpacing a 1.9 percent increase in imports. (Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Additional reporting by Yann Le Geurnigou; Editing by Catherine Evans)