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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - ‘Vision Golfe’ to become conference of reference between France and GCC says French business commissioner
DUBAI: The relationship between France and the Gulf countries has undergone significant political, economic, and cultural developments over the past few years.
In an interview with Arab News en Francais, Axel Baroux, trade and invest commissioner of Business France Middle East, introduces the upcoming event “Vision Golfe 2023.”
The anticipated conference of the year: “Vision Golfe”
“In the era of ‘visions,’ I am pleased to announce that we are organizing the first edition of ‘Vision Golfe’ on June 13 and 14,” declared Axel Baroux.
The two-day event, held in Paris, aims to become the economic conference of reference for France and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. “Vision Golfe” will take place at the Ministry of Economy, Finance, Industry and Industrial and Digital Sovereignty, under the patronage of President Emmanuel Macron.
“Vision Golfe” is the new platform promoting business cooperation in high growth potential markets, and an opportunity to meet key economic players — ministers, SME managers, start-ups, and senior executives, among others.
Despite the challenges facing the global economy, the GCC countries’ economic diversification strategy, geared towards sustainable development and energy transition, offers an environment conducive for attracting talents and investments in various sectors such as energy, healthcare, technology, agri-food, and tourism.
“France is fully committed to participating and contributing to the visions of the Gulf countries with its expertise in key sectors and its strong decarbonization strategy,” Baroux said.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the largest markets in a region marked by considerable growth in trade. Baroux highlighted that the French exports to the GCC were valued at €15 billion ($16.5 billion) in 2022.
Best practices and success stories
“Vision Golfe” will be an opportunity to present “success stories” and major partnerships’ contributions to the strategies of Gulf countries.
On the agenda is an opening speech by Laurent Saint Martin, the director general of Business France, in the presence of French and regional ministers, and a “Doing Business” in the Gulf countries session, moderated by the GCC Secretary-General Jasem Al-Budaiwi.
Thematic discussions and round tables are planned, with a list of topics including but not limited to:
- Best practices for building lasting partnerships;
- Opportunities for cooperation and investment in various sectors;
- France as the most attractive destination in Europe for foreign direct investment.
Trade relations between France and the GCC countries
“The commercial partnership between the GCC countries and France is an important element and a priority for the French government,” said Baroux.
To this end, Business France Middle East organizes more than 70 business meetings, acceleration programs and France pavilions per year to connect French companies and local entities and facilitate investment opportunities.
“A good example of a partnership which will be effective in the coming weeks is E-Fusion. A cooperation agreement specializing in the nuclear sector organized jointly with the Emirati operator, GIFEN, CSFN (the strategic committee for the nuclear sector) and Business France. An incubation program leading to the development of the French economic presence in the UAE,” declared Baroux.
French know-how: Strong potential in the Gulf region
The French presence in the region is well established. In the energy sector, Veolia and Engie invested in the energy transition of the Gulf countries.
France is also stepping up its investments in renewable and nuclear energy in line with the France 2030 Plan, and “its declared ambition to become the first major carbon-free economy in Europe by achieving carbon neutrality by 2050,” explains Baroux.
In the healthcare sector, French pharmaceuticals such as Ipsen, Air Liquide, and Sanofi are present in the Kingdom and in the UAE.
In the food industry, the UAE is becoming an attractive destination for French companies establishing a strong presence in the country with more than 400 restaurants and points of sale of French products (Philibon, St Michel, Isigny Ste Mere, etc.)
Baroux emphasizes the rise of French-style concepts in Saudi Arabia, where French know-how has managed to position itself as a reference in catering focused on quality and excellence.
In the logistics and transport sector, the France-GCC collaboration aims to improve infrastructure. One of the largest railway projects in the world, the project between Makkah and Madinah, was carried out by a French consortium (SNCF, RATP and Alstom).
Investments from the Middle East to France
France has always been a preferred destination for investors from the Gulf states, including sovereign wealth funds, historically active in real estate, hotels, infrastructure, and the acquisition of minority stakes in French groups.
Investments from the Gulf states are directed towards economic diversification and the opportunities represented by new technologies.
France has been able to attract this new type of investments from both institutional investors and private groups from the Gulf region.
Through its US subsidiary GlobalFoundries, the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund Mubadala launched the creation of a semiconductor plant in 2022. An investment of €5.7 billion in partnership with the STMicroelectronics group.
The private Saudi group BinDawood has, through its French subsidiary (Future Retail for Information Technology Co.), acquired a majority stake in the French digital marketing company Ykone, to develop its e-commerce strategy.
“FDIs from the Near and Middle East region to France are estimated at €13.7 billion, but these figures are underestimated given the financial investments often made indirectly,” confirmed Baroux.
France and Saudi Arabia: A historic partnership
“France is a historic partner of Saudi Arabia. We are keen to further develop France’s position and its contribution to the realization of the megaprojects under Vision 2030,” added Baroux.
The Business France team in Saudi Arabia supports French companies in their development projects in the Kingdom. The second edition of the French Fab Booster is set to serve as a Franco-Saudi accelerator program focused on innovative companies in the areas of Industry 4.0.
“Vision Golfe” is anchored in this dynamic of accelerating commercial partnerships between France and key players in the region, namely Saudi Arabia, to promote new opportunities and foster potential synergies across various sectors.
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