PARIS, Nov 8 (Reuters) - France's trade deficit narrowed in September helped by lower energy imports and a jump in Airbus sales, but the data masked falls in nearly all industrial exports, underscoring the challenge the country faces to improve its competitiveness.
The Finance Ministry said the trade deficit shrank to 5.0 billion euros over the month, from 5.3 billion euros ($6.7 bln)in August.
Imports fell to 42.6 billion euros from 43.44 billion, outstripping a more modest decline in exports which fell from 38.2 billion euros to 37.6 billion.
The drop in imports was mainly caused by lower energy purchases, attributable to the closure for maintenance of one of the country's main refineries, the ministry said.
Meanwhile, Airbus sales climbed to 2.1 billion euros from 1.7 billion in August, helping to offset declines in foreign demand for French clothing, chemicals, electronic equipment and agricultural products.
Only pharmaceuticals managed to buck the downward trend, with exports rising to 2.5 billion euros from 2.4 billion a month earlier.
France is struggling to reverse a long slide in competitiveness which has eaten away at exports and destroyed some 750,000 factory jobs over the past 10 years.
On Monday, President Francois Hollande's government unveiled a tougher-than-expected competitiveness package, comprising financing guarantees for small companies and cuts in labour charges, aimed at reviving the country's ailing economy.