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Sink or swim

Mark Mardell | 08:50 UK time, Tuesday, 31 March 2009


The walls of David Sussmann's Marseille office are painted with cartoon fish, in the style of Picasso but executed by Mrs Sussmann. On his bookshelf there are tins of mackerel in Muscadet and sardines in olive oil, a box of cooked, frozen North American lobster and a "table du monde" sushi kit. David Sussmann in office

But then seafood export is, only in the literal sense, a fishy business. In the open-plan office more than 30 men and women are phone-bashing in 12 different languages, selling and buying fish. I keep expecting some one to yell "Hold the herring, and sell sardines!"

But the boss, an optimistic entrepreneur, is clearly frustrated and feels he could be making more money, selling more fish if the French government acted, either alone or with others in the G20.

The company does 6m euros' (£5.6m) worth of business a year in 50 different countries, exporting to Brazil and India, importing from his own canning factories in Morocco, Canada and the United States.

The prices for the fish he sells by the container load are down by a quarter. Demand is down as well. He's had to make around 10 redundancies and close factories outside France. But he says while banks are now playing the game the real problem is insurance companies not underwriting credit. He refuses to take the risk of a company going bust and not being able to pay. Tins of fish

Mr Sussmann says a company in England wants to buy shelled and peeled prawns from him. He wants to sell. But it's not going to happen.

"In England we have a customer that used to have 100,000 euros credit, but suddenly it's been cut to 20,000 euros, so as a result we cannot sell what we have. I absolutely urge the government to take over part of the [insurance] business. The government needs to act. I am extremely surprised people are not talking about it." He adds that if the problem were solved, "the world could do billions of pounds or dollars or euros more business, that would be injected into the world economy."

Should the world's politicians act? Or have they indeed done so? Given that he is talking here about a British company needing credit, isn't this what all underwriting of the banks was meant to fix? More from Marseille tomorrow.


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