updated 1/21/2010 11:42:40 AM ET 2010-01-21T16:42:40

Chinese shoppers' love of French fashion helped make them the biggest tourist spenders in France last year, results from a survey released Thursday suggest.

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The Chinese took the top spot away from the Russians in the (EURO)2 billion (US$2.8 billion) total market for tax-refunded tourist spending in France last year, according to a ranking by the industry leader Global Refund.

Chinese tourists spent about (EURO)158 million last year in shops affiliated with Global Refund, which has 60 percent of the French market for value-added tax refunds for tourists, the company said in a statement.

That was a whopping 47 percent more than Chinese shoppers spent the previous year, and helped offset a more than one-fifth decline in Russian tourists' spending, according to Global Refund's figures.

Chinese shoppers surpassed Japanese shoppers in 2008 according to the tax refund measure.

Paris and its surrounding region attracts the vast majority of Chinese tourists' spending, with clothing by far the most sought-after item, according to Global Refund's data.

Overall, the market was flat at (EURO)2 billion, according to Global Refund, with a slight rebound in Japanese tourists' spending offsetting flat sales by other big visitors to France, such as shoppers from the United States — in fourth place — Hong Kong, Brazil and Taiwan.

Chinese shoppers also made their presence felt in other European capitals last year. In Italy, spending by Chinese shoppers rose 34 percent in the January-October period compared with a year earlier, according to Global Refund.

In Sweden, Chinese shoppers' spending rose 32 percent last year, making them the country's biggest spenders ahead of the Russians for the first time, according to Global Refund's Swedish branch.

In Norway, where Chinese tourist spending rocketed by 150 percent between 2005 and 2007, the trend was flat last year, following a steep drop in 2008, according to government-run Statistics Norway.

Higher numbers of Chinese tourists were also noted in Belgium and the Netherlands. However Britain and Germany have recently recorded declines in the number of Chinese visitors, according to an October 2009 report from Visit Europe, a body grouping 39 national tourism offices across Europe.

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