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Gulf is ‘ideal playground’ for surging French investment

Macron Wam
French President Emmanuel Macron and UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan met last week to discuss bilateral trade
  • More than 1,000 meetings planned at Vision Gulf conference in Paris
  • France and UAE trade grew 16.8% in 2022, reaching $8bn
  • Renewable energy is a key growth sector 

France aims to boost its investment relationship with the GCC region by hosting an inaugural Vision Gulf event in Paris next month.

The flagship conference organised by Business France, the country’s national trade agency, aims to promote increased collaboration between Middle East-based investors and French corporates.

Taking place on June 13-14 at the French Ministry of the Economy, Finance and Industrial and Digital Sovereignty, it will bring together decision-makers from the private and public sectors, with more than 1,000 business meetings planned.

Vision Gulf comes as trade between France and the UAE grew by 16.8 percent in 2022, reaching $8 billion, according to data from the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Centre.

Trade with Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, topped $7 billion in 2021, while relations with Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain were worth $2.2 billion, $1.1 billion, $369 million and $240 million respectively, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity.

Axel Baroux, French trade and invest commissioner to the UAE, said: “The Middle East and especially the UAE has always been heavily involved in France diversifying its portfolio through investments in real estate, banking, telecommunications and more.”

Jewellery and precious metals topped the list of imports from France in 2022, followed by jet engines and perfumes, while packaging products were the UAE’s leading export commodity.

The UAE-France relationship was strengthened last year when France was picked for Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s first official foreign visit since he became UAE President, during which a Comprehensive Strategic Energy Partnership was signed.

And last week Sheikh Mohamed returned to Paris to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss expanding the bilateral partnership.

Axel BarouxSupplied
Baroux said French companies would be ‘solid partners’ for the UAE’s renewable energy projects

Baroux described the French presence in the UAE – where about 600 companies operate – as “diversified”, with the likes of Veolia and Engie heavily invested in the energy and environmental transition sector. 

He said the Middle East is an “ideal playground” for French companies willing to explore and develop renewable energy projects. 

“With the upcoming Cop28, we want to position French companies as solid partners to help the UAE take a regional leadership in the energy transition thanks to energy-efficient innovations,” said Baroux. 

“Energy collaboration has always been the cornerstone of the UAE-France bilateral relationship.

“The two countries have made significant progress, with France playing a key role in the development of the UAE’s renewable energy sector,” he added.

Since 2019 the French nuclear industry has also been engaged in a partnership with the UAE with the launch of E-Fusion, a joint governance framework, which was further strengthened last year with the signing of a deal between Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) and CSFN (French Nuclear Cluster). 

In February Saudi Arabia also agreed to strengthen bilateral cooperation with France on renewable energy, energy storage, smart grids and the production of hydrogen.

France GulfKeolis
France’s Keolis operates and maintains Dubai’s metro and tram networks

The UAE is becoming a hotspot for French businesses across a number of sectors.

French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi is helping Abu Dhabi to position itself as leading life science destination.

Paris-based Keolis is operating and maintaining Dubai’s metro and tram networks under a 15-year contract awarded by the Roads & Transport Authority in 2021. French autonomous vehicle pioneer Navya designed the first driverless transport network implemented at Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. 

France is also the UAE’s third largest supplier in aeronautics, boosted by the presence of Airbus, Dassault, Thales and Safran. In December 2021 it signed a $19 billion deal to supply Rafael warplanes, said to secure the company’s industrial supply chain for the next decade.

“Given the UAE’s regional leadership in the aviation sector, and French expertise in aircraft manufacturing, the bilateral cooperation in research and development, aerospace engineering and air transportation seems a win-win situation for both parties,” said Baroux.

He added that French companies also have a “unique opportunity” to contribute to the recently announced Dubai Urban Master Plan 2040

“French companies including Schneider Electric, Engie and Vinci Construction have already established a strong presence in Dubai. They can leverage this expertise to support the city’s ambitious goal to be the best city to live in by 2040,” Baroux said.