Cultural industries have contributed more to Europe's economic growth than the automobile and ICT sectors in recent years, according to figures presented at a major cultural exchange forum in China last weekend.

Cultural industries have been responsible for 2.5% of Europe's GDP growth recently, surpassing figures for carmakers and ICT firms, Odile Quintin, director-general of the European Commission's education and culture department, told the first EU-China Cultural Industries Forum, hosted by the Chinese city of Shenzhen on 15-18 May. 

"The cultural industry is the real driving force of the present knowledge-based society and as a source of creativity and innovation, the value that it brings is mind-boggling," the Shenzhen Daily reported Quintin as saying. 

She advised China and the EU to share their creativity in art and innovation to develop the new technologies that would help both economies to emerge from the downturn. 

Finnish example 

Citing Finland as an example of how modern economies can fund innovation to emerge from recession, the Commission's Quintin recalled how the country's GDP had shrunk by 9% in the 1990s. 

Helsinki's decision to invest in innovation and creativity had not only helped to restart growth but had made the country "one of the economic and social stars of Europe," said Quintin. 

China to 'lead the way'… 

"China's booming cultural industry will sooner or later lead the industry because other countries were too conservative to cope with creativity and innovation," Philippe Kern, the French owner of Brussels-based consultancy KEA European Affairs, told the forum. 

Kern, who is also secretary-general of the European Film Companies Alliance and a former director of public and legal affairs at PolyGram, was quoted by the Shenzhen Daily as saying that "unlike European countries, which have ageing populations with much less passion for creativity and innovation, China is an energetic country and knows exactly what creativity and innovation can do in promoting the cultural industry". 

Indeed, the Shenzhen event saw buyers in Europe and the United States sign deals to export $284m (€211m) worth of Chinese products to the West, a third of the total value of all export transactions concluded at the conference. 

…but must 'work harder' to understand world market 

Nevertheless, Hu Jingyan, director-general of the services trade department at the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, warned that the products of many Chinese cultural enterprises did not cater for overseas needs, prompting the government to encourage companies to work harder "to understand the international market". 

The organisers pledged to make the EU-China cultural cooperation forum an annual event.