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Macron courts Tesla's Musk and others to 'Choose France'

By Michel Rose and Tassilo Hummel

PARIS (Reuters) -President Emmanuel Macron met Tesla's CEO Elon Musk, the boss of Pfizer and other business chiefs on Monday to urge them to pour money into France, and his office said the country was poised to win record foreign investment pledges.

For Macron, whose popularity has suffered from a widely unpopular move to raise the French retirement age, the "Choose France" summit is a chance to regain the initiative with his pro-business reform drive and shift attention to his promotion of lower carbon industry, such as electric vehicles.

Some 200 business leaders attending the event in Versailles close to Paris have so far made commitments to invest a combined 13 billion euros ($14 billion), the most since Macron first held the summit in 2018, his office said.

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Musk, who also lunched with Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, said he was confident Tesla would make "significant investments" in France in the future, without giving a timetable.

"No announcement today but I am very impressed with President Macron and the French government and how welcoming they are," he told reporters.

The Elysee said the talks covered topics such as the European response to the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act and the progress France has made in attracting investment and improving the outlook for electric vehicles and energy.

"We have so much to do together," Macron said in a tweet.

Le Maire also pitched to Musk new tax credits for investments in green technology made public last week.

Asked whether France was trying to convince Musk to build a gigafactory in France, Le Maire said he'd rather keep the content of their negotiations secret in a context of cut-throat competition between rival blocs.

"It's a battle where no one is doing anybody any favour," he said.

France previously tried to convince Musk to build a European gigafactory in the country, but he chose Germany for his only such plant in Europe so far.

FIGHT FOR INVESTMENTS

Macron, a former investment banker, is competing on the global stage for investment in green technology at a time when the United States has become a magnet following its $430 billion Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which includes major tax subsidies to cut carbon emissions, boost domestic production and manufacturing.

Tesla's plant near Berlin began delivering cars in March 2022 and produces around 5,000 Model Y vehicles a week, with a maximum capacity of 500,000 cars per year.

But although it has begun assembling batteries in Germany, Tesla has said it will focus cell production in the U.S. in light of IRA incentives.

To counter that, Macron said last week France's existing cash incentive of up to 5,000 euros for buyers of new electric cars would be made conditional on their producers meeting tough low-carbon standards, effectively excluding cars made outside Europe.

France so far expects a total of 28 investment projects from companies ranging from U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to Swedish furniture maker IKEA and investment bank Morgan Stanley. In total, the projects are expected to create 8,000 jobs.

The single biggest investment is a 5.2 billion euro project from a Taiwanese car battery maker in the northern port city of Dunkirk, which Macron announced on Friday.

It is followed by a 1.5 billion euro battery components plant also in Dunkirk in a joint venture between Chinese group XTC and French firm Orano.

IKEA has plans to invest 906 million euros by 2026 while Pfizer has budgeted 500 million euros to expand in France over the same period followed by British rival GSK with 400 million euros, Macron's office said.

Morgan Stanley plans to increase headcount in France by 200 by 2025, bringing total staff in the country to 500.

($1 = 0.9084 euros)

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas, Tassilo Hummel, Blandine Henault, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Michel Rose, Geert De Clercq and Silvia Aloisi in Paris and Victoria Waldersee in Berlin;Editing by Christina Fincher, Barbara Lewis and David Gregorio)