French executives accompanying the country's president on a trip to China today closed deals worth €20bn (£14.4bn) to sell nuclear reactors and Airbus planes to the communist state.

Nicolas Sarkozy, on a visit focusing on trade relations, welcomed the lucrative agreements but also warned of the environmental costs of China's rapid economic growth.

"We hope China's growth can continue, but we also hope China's growth is carbon-free and environmentally friendly. We believe this is in China's interests and the interests of the entire world," he said.

With human rights all but left off the agenda despite an election pledge to stand by "all those who are persecuted by tyrannies, by dictatorships", Sarzoky and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, presided over a series of signings after talks in Beijing.

In the biggest agreement, worth around €10bn, China committed to buying 160 Airbus planes.

In other deals, France's state-owned Areva SA finalised an €8bn contract to sell two nuclear reactors to state-run China Guangdong Nuclear Power in one of the company's largest contracts ever.

French, American and Russian suppliers have been hotly vying for contracts in China, which plans to build as many as 32 nuclear plants by 2020 in an attempt to meet increasing power demands. With Hu by his side, Sarkozy told journalists that he appreciated China's progress on improving citizen's rights. However, he said he had also "reiterated France's desire to see further progress, especially in respect to the application of rule of law in the judiciary, the freedom of journalists and in the death penalty".

The Paris-based advocacy group, Reporters Without Borders, had earlier appealed to Sarkozy to raise the cases of 33 journalists and 50 cyber-dissidents imprisoned in China.

The French leader discussed with Hu his hopes that China would drop its opposition to further UN sanctions against Tehran, and pressure Burma's military junta to talk to the democratic opposition.