By Arab News
By François Gouyette*
Paris and Riyadh are bound by historic relations. France opened its first consulate in Jeddah in 1839, and since the meeting between Gen. Charles de Gaulle and King Faisal in 1967, bilateral relations have distinguished themselves by political and personal high-level contacts. This year, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of this memorable meeting.
Paris and Riyadh have sealed a long-term special relationship. The five-year term of former President François Hollande strengthened the French-Saudi global strategic partnership, which his successor Emmanuel Macron intends to improve in order to identify new synergies with the Kingdom’s bold Vision 2030 plan for economic and social reforms.
In the coming months, our two countries will develop cooperation in numerous fields: Defense, peace and security, energy, health, agriculture, education, culture, the environment and tourism. Our two friendly countries have always enjoyed a strong, close and confident relationship. They share a broad convergence of views on major regional and international issues, as well as the main challenges of the 21st century.
In that context, visits of French and Saudi senior political figures have considerably increased in recent years. At the same time, members of the French Parliament and Majlis Al-Shoura have developed their relations through the French-Saudi friendship group. The scope, dimension and level of our bilateral relations reflect the close links between our countries for the benefit of the French and Saudi peoples.
Political relations between Paris and Riyadh have reached new heights. France and Saudi Arabia have a common ambition: To ensure their economic partnership is in line with their special political relation. In May 2015, the French president and Saudi king adopted an ambitious action plan to boost our relationship through a win-win approach. Since then, France and Saudi Arabia have already held two joint committees.
The third joint committee will focus on our mutual determination to strengthen the French-Saudi strategic partnership and deepen our special relationship via increased trade and identification of new cooperation prospects within the framework of the National Transformation Program (NTP) 2020, adopted by the Kingdom to implement Vision 2030.
French expertise must take part in this new era in the Kingdom. The French government and private investors are eager to stand with the Saudi people. The Kingdom is a major economic and commercial partner for France in the Gulf and in all the Middle East.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with a volume of trade worth $8 billion in 2016, France is one of the Kingdom’s top 10 commercial partners in the world. Our trade relations cover fields as diverse as defense, energy, transport and tourism. In 2016, Saudi exports to France amounted to €3.8 billion ($4.3 billion), while Saudi imports from France reached €4.1 billion ($4.7 billion).
France is a major importer of crude oil. With an average of 1.2 million barrels per day in 2016, we are the fourth-largest European importer of crude oil. But those imports have slowly decreased since 1998 due to our commitment to energy efficiency, renewable energy and public transport.
At the same time, the market share of Saudi oil in our imports has regularly increased for the last 10 years. In 2016, it represented 15 percent of our external supply of oil. This shows the stability of our trade relations and the quality of Saudi oil products.
These strong links will keep strengthening in the coming months and years, since French companies have established strong partnerships with Saudi players, who do not want to be only suppliers but also agents of economic modernization.
With more than $15 billion of French foreign direct investments (FDI) in Saudi Arabia, France is the third-biggest foreign investor in the Kingdom. French companies employ more than 27,000 people in Saudi Arabia, with a 36 percent average Saudization rate.
France is one of the most attractive countries for incoming FDI. Saudi investments in France cover fields as diverse as the hotel industry, the agro-food industry and real estate. According to INSEE, the French national statistics institute, 24 Saudi companies operate in France. They employ some 3,200 people and have a consolidated turnover of around €350 million ($399 million).
Including portfolio and residential real estate investments, Saudi investments in France amount to around €1 billion ($1.1 billion). The French-Saudi Business Council is a key player in helping reinforce the volume of bilateral trade.
Last but not least, the number of Saudi tourists in France is another indicator of the bilateral friendship. In 2016, the French consulates in the Kingdom issued almost 130,000 visas, mostly within 48 hours and multiple entry.
Many of the most famous French tourist attractions are in the countryside, such as the viaduct of Millau, the Provence and Côte d’Azur region, and some of the royal castles scattered along the Loire Valley. France is also the second destination worldwide for skiing.
Long live the French-Saudi friendship!
• François Gouyette is ambassador of France to Saudi Arabia.