Saudi Arabia Is France's Largest Market in the Middle East: Diplomat

Published May 23rd, 2017 - 08:00 GMT
Then French President Francois Hollande (L) and French President-elect Emmanuel Macron at a special ceremony at the Jardin du Luxembourg, on May 10, 2017. (AFP/ Eric Feferberg)
Then French President Francois Hollande (L) and French President-elect Emmanuel Macron at a special ceremony at the Jardin du Luxembourg, on May 10, 2017. (AFP/ Eric Feferberg)

A senior French diplomat has said that Macron’s election will be good for the country’s business ties with the Middle East. On May 7, Emmanuel Macron was elected as President of France, beating his opponent Marine Le Pen, a far-right politician.

“It’s good news, both for France and for foreigners working, or willing to invest, with France. It represents stability and confidence,” Marc Cagnard, French Trade Commissioner in the UAE, said in an interview with Gulf News on Monday. 

Cagnard said that reactions in the Middle East to the result of the election had been positive.

Macron has pledged to keep France in the European Union (EU), following Britain’s decision to leave in 2016.

“He will open up France to the world, and have France more involved in globalisation. For investors and for relations between France and the Middle East, this is very good news,” Cagnard said.

Le Pen, leader of the National Front party, has been accused of xenophobia and the targeting of Muslims with her inflammatory rhetoric.

“Whilst it’s early still, we know that people in the Middle East are very happy about this election, having Macron instead of Le Pen,” Cagnard said.

Around 600 French companies are currently based in the UAE, whilst between 6,000 and 7,000 French companies export to the UAE on a daily basis.

According to a report released by Business France, the government agency responsible for supporting the international contribution to the French economy, on Monday morning, France is the UAE’s fourth largest foreign direct investor, with over €5.6 billion (Dh23.04 billion) poured in to the emirates last year.

Whilst Saudi Arabia is France’s largest market in the Middle East, the UAE is a close second.

In 2016, France exported €3.6 billion of goods to the UAE, whilst it received €1.05 billion in imports from the Gulf country. This represents a trade deficit of €2.57 billion between the two nations.

“Things are changing,” Cagnard said, adding: “You can’t just export at a high price to the Gulf, take the money and go home anymore.”

Cagnard, also Managing Director Middle East at Business France, noted that the trade situation between western countries and the Gulf has become normalised.

“You must set the price at a fair rate, and you need to be innovative, because there’s strong competition in the market,” he said.

As with many of the deals Donald Trump and his delegation signed in Saudi Arabia this past weekend, Gulf countries are increasingly requiring companies to base their operations in the Middle East, instead of simply exporting goods to the region.

“You have to be here, you have to produce here. The investors need to be in the country, and diversify the economy with new companies. French companies are moving in that direction,” Cagnard said.

French exports to the Middle East in 2016 totalled €14.2 billion, from 37,100 exporting companies.

Imports to France from the Middle East during that time amounted to €6.8 billion, from 3,100 importing companies.

This represents a €7.4 billion trade surplus.

By Ed Clowes

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