* French minister signs trade agreement with Libyans
* Also seeking contracts in aerospace, energy, construction
* France lags behind Italy for business ties with Libya
By Ali Shuaib
TRIPOLI, Oct 21 (Reuters) - France wants to do business with Libya in areas including nuclear energy, a French minister said on Thursday on a visit aimed at narrowing Italy’s lead in building lucrative trade ties with the oil exporter.
Foreign investors have rushed to Libya since it emerged from international isolation six years ago, with companies from former colonial power Italy, as well as Turkey, South Korea and Britain, taking a leading role.
French Industry Minister Christian Estrosi arrived in the Libyan capital on board a new Airbus passenger jet, one of a consignment of aircraft which the company is contracted to supply to state-owned carrier Libyan Airlines.
The French minister signed an agreement with his Libyan opposite number on trade cooperation, and also had talks with Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi.
“We hope that it (the agreement) will allow us to have a closer understanding between Libya and the European Union,” Estrosi, speaking through an interpreter, told Reuters.
“This agreement will lead to strategic cooperation with Libya in the areas of transport, health, construction, oil and gas and peaceful nuclear energy,” he said.
He did not give details about what form any nuclear cooperation might take. France’s Areva is a big player in the international market for building and operating power-generating nuclear reactors.
Libya was for years subject to international sanctions but these were lifted in 2004 after the country’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi, renounced illegal weapons programmes.
The most high-profile French investors to date have been Total, which is the operator in two oil fields and has several exploration projects, and BNP Paribas, which acquired a stake in Libya’s Sahara bank in 2007. (Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Charles Dick)