Semmaris, the management company of France's largest wholesale market, Rungis, has said it sees scope for "at least 10" regional markets in China, without counting the urban populations.

Rungis, which is just a five-minute drive from Paris's Orly airport and is rapidly becoming a major export earner in its own right, has seen a steady stream of Chinese regional government delegations flying in over recent months, Semmaris said. The company added that consultancy work for Shanghai's city authorities on a world-scale food market for the city is well advanced.

While Rungis stands to develop a handsome export portfolio out of such work, it is not all plain sailing. The French state is the majority owner, holding a 56.7% stake in this market 'of national interest'. The state needs to square the circle of discharging its duties to French citizens, while keeping a discreet distance from the operational and commercial activity of selling know-how abroad.

This spring, a plan to sell off around 8% of the state holding attracted heavy criticism, which turned to howls of protest when it was suggested that the stakes held by the city of Paris and the Val de Marne regional government somehow represented a state holding by another name.

As commercial pressure grows, the Rungis management needs next spring's presidential and legislative elections to unlock its export potential.