World Wars I and II

The fighting and the losses that France suffered in World War I had a traumatic effect on France. With the deaths of almost 1.4 million soldiers, sailors, and airmen in the war, as well as many more badly injured, it was a loss that the French population noticed greatly during the 1920s and 1930s. War production had dramatically altered the economy, but there were noticeable improvements. Prior to the war, the telephone system was antiquated. It was replaced by the Americans with a new one that served Paris and the nearby region. Factories were larger and more efficient, and women had entered the workforce in larger numbers than ever before. However, there were also many political problems with regular strikes and agitation by the newly powerful trade union movement. It was also a period when the communists, and later the socialists, started to flex their muscle.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the French colonial empire was maintained, although increasing numbers of non-French personnel had to be trained, providing opportunities for locals, some of whom were to lead the subsequent nationalist movements after World War II. During the 1920s, the United States came to epitomize mass production, but the French companies were seen as having “style.” Nevertheless, owing to the jurisdictions of the various colonial empires, most goods produced in France were sold either to a home market or to parts of the French Empire. This allowed many of the French companies to expand into Africa, Indochina, and other parts of the world.
The German invasion of France in May 1940, and Frances collapse less than six weeks later, led to four years of German occupation. After the war, some French wanted to return to the glory of the pre-1939 period, but colonial struggles in Indochina, and then in Algeria, ended this. Many of the French colonies in Africa became independent by the early 1960s, although most of them did retain close ties with France and continued buying goods from French companies.
Postcolonial Era
The loss of the French colonies caused a major rethink in French government policy, and combined with the absorption of many former residents of the colonies, especially from Algeria. France saw itself more and more as a leader in Europe, becoming a major force in the Common Market, which became the European Economic Community, and later still the European Union. This helped protect the agricultural sector in the country, much to the chagrin of the British, with regular disputes in the early 1980s between the British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and her French counterparts. In spite of this, agriculture accounts for only 4 percent of the French workforce and contributes 3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The service sector accounts for 72 percent of the current workforce in France and makes up 76 percent of the GDP, with industry employing 24 percent of the workforce and generating 21 percent of the GDP.
During the late 1960s and from the early 1970s, France established itself as a major arms supplier in the world, and this has led to accusations about its involvement in many conflicts such as those in Africa and the Iran-Iraq War. France has continued exporting weapons and military supplies, with companies such as Aerospatiale (makers of the Exocet missile) and Dassault well known internationally. In terms of fashion, French designers such as Christian Dior (1905-57) and Yves St. Laurent (1936-2008) have led to the great interest in French style. French manufacturers of glass and plastics, and also French publishers such as Hachette, have also expanded their operations. Tourism has long drawn many people to France some 76 million visited France in 2005, spending US$42 billion (the overall population of the country being 60.8 million) and Air France, and through it and other companies, ownership of hotels and resorts around the world have kept most countries in the world in contact with France.
In 2005, France exported US$434.4 billion, with the major part being machinery and transportation equipment, aircraft, plastics, chemicals, pharmaceutical products, iron and steel, and beverages, especially wine. Imports included machinery and equipment, automobiles, crude oil, aircraft, plastics, and chemicals. Germany made up 15 percent of the export market, and 17 percent of the import market, with Spain and Britain being substantial recipients of French exports, and Italy and Spain being, after Germany, the main sources of imports into France.