French expertise can help transform Saudi Arabian economy
Saudi Arabia – Franco-Saudi Business Forum – Opening speech by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs
Paris, 10 April 2018
I’m pleased to be opening with you the Franco-Saudi Business Forum, which is being held on the occasion of His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to France.
Since King Faisal’s visit in 1967 and his meeting with General de Gaulle, relations between our two countries have developed thanks to trustful relations which have always prevailed between our leaders. The personal relationship President Macron and the Crown Prince have forged since their first meeting in Riyadh last November is no exception. It has allowed us to build our strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia on four pillars: political and diplomatic issues; security and defence – a hugely important issue in this period; the economy, trade and investment; and educational, cultural and scientific cooperation. But this framework means nothing without your investment. It is up to you – business leaders, innovators, those involved in economic life – to foster this partnership.
On the economic front, you’ll observe that there’s an incredible synchrony which brings us closer together today: both France and Saudi Arabia have begun significantly transforming their economies, with two goals in particular. First, to strengthen their positions as players at the forefront of innovation and new technology, and also to make themselves more attractive to international investors. This has been President Macron’s programme since he was elected last May, and it’s the desire of the Crown Prince, set out in Vision 2030. This alignment of economic agendas offers us a shared opportunity. It’s up to us to grasp it.
This happens to be the goal of the business forum. The meetings and discussions you’re going to have today will determine – at least, I hope they will – your decisions to invest in the coming months and years. Today we’re preparing the future between our two countries. Because for us, Saudi Arabia is more than a customer. It’s a strategic partner, a member of the G20 and key to stability and international economic governance, with whom we’re committed over the long term and in every sector.
In this partnership, we can build on the close ties which already exist, particularly as regards investment. A few figures serve as a reminder of this. In 2017, the volume of civil trade between France and Saudi Arabia came to €8.6 billion. That’s up 8.7% from 2016.
In addition, French foreign direct investment (FDI) in Saudi Arabia totals $15.3 billion. This ranks us third among foreign investors in the country, behind the United States and Kuwait. There are 80 French companies in Saudi Arabia today; they employ around 27,600 people, including 10,000 Saudis. So the foundations of our economic relationship are solid: on this basis, we can forge ahead, particularly in those sectors where French expertise and skills can contribute to the swift transformation of Saudi Arabia’s economy.
I’m thinking, firstly, of the energy sector, because Saudi Arabia is preparing for the post-oil age. The kingdom must take up the energy transition challenge today; the challenge is one of the main themes of Vision 2030. France has first-rate expertise and skills when it comes to low-carbon – such as nuclear and renewable – energy, thanks to its major groups such as Total, EDF and Engie, and also its innovative SMEs specializing, for example, in energy storage. I would add that the partnerships forged in this area are a logical and necessary complement to our political dialogue on climate issues.
I’m also thinking of agriculture and agrifood. Major groups such as Danone are already well established in the kingdom. Saudi groups have invested in the sector in France. Saudi consumers appreciate the quality and safety of our products. Other French companies are ready today to contribute to the development of an aquaculture industry of excellence and help secure and diversify Saudi Arabia’s supply.
Similarly, health is a sector where France can create added value, to the mutual benefit of our economies. Our public and private actors are also ready to support the kingdom, be it in the fight against cancer and diabetes, in epidemiology, the emergency services, medicine production or the management of its blood-collection and healthcare systems.
Sustainable cities are also a priority area of concern in our cooperation. Vision 2030, which puts urban development at the heart of its economic transformation strategy, takes this aspect fully into account. French companies are putting forward an attractive, high-quality offer regarding seawater desalination, waste management and water-supply systems management, and sustainable mobility.
Tourism/Red Sea project
Finally, tourism and leisure are also a sector where our expertise as the world’s number one destination can be of great use to you. We can create an essential partnership in that sector. We’d particularly like to work together on the Red Sea project to develop tourism on the shores of the Red Sea.
I’d like, finally, to remind you of the project to develop the Al-Ula region, for which, on the Crown Prince’s initiative, Saudi Arabia has chosen France as its partner of choice. That exceptional natural and archaeological site will have at its heart the ancient city of Mada’in Saleh, inscribed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites, and where French archaeologists have been carrying out excavations for nearly a century. Tomorrow it will be a global benchmark. This unique potential, incorporating respect for the environment, the integrity of the sites and tourism attractiveness will, I believe, be key to our partnership and also Saudi Arabia’s tourism and development prospects.
Ministers, these are challenges, projects, potential agendas. Rest assured, Your Royal Highness, ministers, that French companies are keen to make a human and financial contribution in Saudi Arabia and so play a full part in the Crown Prince’s desire to make it a land of innovation. You may be assured that President Macron, his foreign minister and the ministers who are coming to meet you today – Bruno Le Maire, in particular – will work actively at the service of an essential bilateral relationship and the success of our two economies. Thank you./.
Paris, 10 April 2018
At the invitation of His Excellency the President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron, His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince, Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Defense of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, paid a state visit to the French Republic on 9-10 April 2018.
HRH the Crown Prince met with President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Defense Florence Parly and Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire.
At the Elysée Palace, His Excellency President Macron, HRH Crown Prince co-chaired the first meeting of the Saudi-French Strategic Partnership Council, which was attended by a number of ministers and senior officials of the two governments.
President Macron held an official dinner banquet in honor of HRH the Crown Prince who conveyed greetings of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to His Excellency and conveyed to President Macron an invitation of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. President Macron welcomed the invitation and sent a message of friendship and great respect to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
His Royal Highness the Crown Prince’s visit was an opportunity to celebrate the long history of friendship and cooperation between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and France. The two countries’ commitments will open a new and promising chapter in their relationship within framework of developing a new strategic partnership covering the political, defense, security, economic, cultural, scientific and educational areas of their relationship into new horizons.
International and regional politics
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and France share a common objective to realize peace and stability, in the Middle East. The ministers of foreign affairs, in the two countries will work towards deepening consultations and coordination to back up political solutions. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and France will work towards tackling world challenges facing international community, including climate change and human development and the joint action of the two countries will decisively contribute to these domains.
Defense and security
The wide-scale and multi-faceted security cooperation, has made counterterrorism a priority to both Saudi Arabia and France, with especial interest in combating terrorism and terrorism funding, and that their close cooperation, in this regard, will expand regional efforts as well as multi-partite endeavors and making them more effective and they will work towards making Paris Conference to combat terrorism funding, set to take place on 25-26 April, a success. France, also, will contribute to back up Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to upgrade its ministry of defense.
Economy, commerce and investment
Deepening commerce and investment is beneficial to the two countries’ economies, as the Kingdom Vision 2030 is an opportunity to explore new domains, in business and cooperation in the main sectors for cooperation such as water and environment, connected sustainable cities, transport, energy, health, agriculture and water supply.
The French know-how in the domain of technology is of a great importance for all domains, as its impact would be tangible, in all fields and the financial investments between big and upstart companies, will be encouraged.
During the visit, a forum for Saudi and France chief executive officers has been held and attended by executives from the two countries. The forum facilitated presenting offers and making in-depth discussions related to the Kingdom Vision 2030 projects and instituted significant communication between the two parties, culminating in co-signing of a host of contracts and MoUs reflecting the new dynamics of economic as well as technological bonds between the two countries.
Academic, cultural and scientific cooperation
The renewal of the partnership framework between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of France will redefine cooperation priorities between the two countries. The two countries will establish programs in the fields of education, training, research, innovation, culture, heritage, tourism, sport and youth. The Republic of France will share its tourism and heritage skills in the interest of the Kingdom Vision 2030.
The new partnership, which embodies the efforts exerted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in developing a sustainable tourism and heritage sector in Al-Ula province with the participation of international partners, aims to enhance the cooperation in all these fields through tangible procedures and structural projects in addition to existing projects in this regard.
In the field of cultural heritage, an agreement on the development of Al-Ula province was co-signed by Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud, Governor of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula and Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France. This cooperation highlights the joint vision between the two countries to maintain and promote the cultural heritage, enhance scientific knowledge, and inaugurate new ways of sustainable tourism for this unique archaeological site.
A memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Royal Commission for Al-Ula and Campus France was signed in the field of training students from Al-Ula province and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Royal Commission for Al-Ula and the Arab World Institute to establish a movable exhibition.
Middle East issues
In the field of regional and international issues, the two sides held deep discussions where they highlighted their commitment to the peace and security in the Middle East. They also discussed the current situation in the Eastern Ghouta, including the recent reports on using chemical weapons. The two sides called upon the international community to hold the involved in these attacks accountable. The two countries reiterated their stance that the solution of the Syrian crisis must be based on a political solution based on Geneva 1 Declaration and UN Security Council resolution no. 2254 - 2015.
The two countries reiterated their firm commitment to confront extremism and terrorism, and combat their financing, including Sahel region. The Republic of France praised the Kingdom’s great support for the joint military force in five Sahel countries.
Situation in Yemen
With regard to Yemen, both sides affirmed the need for a political solution, as it was called by Security Council Resolution 2216-2015, to end the suffering of the Yemeni people. The two sides condemned ballistic missile attacks by the Houthi militias on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and reaffirmed the importance of compliance of the countries providing the Houthi militias with weapons and ballistic missiles, with relevant UN resolutions prohibiting such acts.
The two sides reiterated the importance of supporting efforts of the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Yemen to reach a political solution for the Yemeni crisis. In a parallel context, the Republic of France affirmed its readiness to support the Coalition Supporting the Legitimacy, in Yemen, and UN agencies to accelerate delivery of humanitarian aid to all Yemenis, including $1 billion humanitarian response plan committed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The Kingdom and the Republic of France agreed to organize an international conference in Paris on humanitarian aid in Yemen. The two countries also reaffirmed their readiness to enhance cooperation with other friendly countries on the security and development of the Red Sea.
They also affirmed their commitment to the stability, unity and sovereignty of Lebanon as reflected in their pledges and stances, at the Cedar Conference held on 6 April 2018, in Paris, stressing the need for all Lebanese parties to abide by the principle of keeping away from the regional conflicts.
With regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the two countries reiterated their call for a two-state solution based on the relevant UN resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative. The two sides agreed on the need to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. They discussed the steps that will be taken to curb Iran’s ballistic program and stop destabilizing aspects of its regional policy.
They pointed out that supplying militias, as well as armed groups, including the groups classified as terrorist organizations by UN, with arms and support is unacceptable. They also pointed out that Iran must abide by international laws and principles regarding good neighborliness and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
The two sides reaffirmed that the relationship between the two countries has been moved to new horizons because of the state historic visit paid by HRH the Crown Prince to the Republic of France. Both sides expressed looking forward to the visit of President Macron to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to further move the relationship between them to wider horizons./.
¹Source of English text: Saudi Press Agency.