Kent hits back in `trade war'

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The Independent Online

Consumer Affairs Correspondent

The cross-Channel shopping war escalated yesterday with the announcement that Kent is to launch a pounds 100,000 campaign selling itself to French and Belgian householders as the place to come for their regular family shopping.

The county is to hand out 2 million leaflets to incoming tourists promoting Le Kent des Bonnes Affaires (bargains), and from Monday it will start advertising its shops and high streets on prime-time French television. Three thousand French travel agencies will also receive brochures.

The campaign will highlight the savings that French shoppers can make - up to 50 per cent on goods like children's clothes, DIY materials or pet food. Even with ferry costs included, a family could save up to pounds 40 on a pounds 200 bill, it is estimated.

The aim is to reverse the cross-Channel shopping tide which since the opening of the European single market in 1993 has seen millions of Britons take the ferry or Channel tunnel to Calais to bring back large amount of food and alcohol.

The "booze cruises", fuelled by much lower rates of duty on alcohol and tobacco in France, have hit Kent badly. Brewing industry figures show that a million pints of beer cross the Channel to Dover every day and that monthly imports of alcohol by British trippers are equivalent to what Kent drinks in a year.

In an initiative linking local authorities, the tourist industry and leading retailers such as British Home Stores and Boots, Kent is offering a trip across the Channel by Sealink for a car and family for about pounds 18 - with a 50 franc (pounds 6.50) voucher to spend on board, plus discounts of up to 15 per cent on shops and holiday attractions.

Martin Graham, chief executive of Kent Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the publicity over cheap alcohol had obscured the fact that "most things are cheaper in Britain". He added: "We have to get the message across to French housewives that is a normal and reasonable thing to take a cheap Channel crossing and do your monthly shopping in Kent."