Since 2021 start, both Saudi & French governments work to enhance our already strong relations to the level of a strategic partnership: Ambassador Ludovic
France has taken several significant steps to boost cooperation with Saudi Arabia, according to His Excellency Ludovic Pouille, Ambassador of the Republic of France to the Kingdom.
In an interview with Leaders MENA magazine, His Excellency Ludovic Pouille highlights the efforts made by France, and its business sector, to invest in Saudi Arabia, particularly in strategic industrial sectors and real estate.
At the same time, the Ambassador made note of the Saudi efforts and decisive containment measures to protect human life and limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Saudi impressive response to the economic crisis in 2020 as well as the strong measures to mitigate the economic consequences of the pandemic.
Here, Ambassador Ludovic explains more on his country’s stance regarding cooperation with KSA in a range of issues.
- What is the volume of trade exchange between the two countries?
Within the Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia is our first trade partner. 2020 was a very exceptional year due to the pandemics, hence, trade in goods between France and Saudi Arabia amounted only to EUR 4.9 billion, losing 49% compared to 2019. This decrease is mainly due to the combined effect of the drop in our imports of oil and our exports. In 2020, Saudi Arabia was our 36th customerand our 34th supplier.
Nevertheless, the relations between France and Saudi Arabia are way more deep and strategic than its trade balance. Since the beginning of the year, our two governments have decided to enhance our already strong relations to the level of a strategic partnership. This partnership we intend to build is twofold. Our ambition is not only to increase the presence of French companies in the Saudi economy. We expect as well our Saudi partners, being institutions or private companies, to explore investment opportunities in the French economy.
- Which sectors are attractive for French investments in Saudi Arabia?
Many French corporates have already established strong partnerships with Saudi companies and count among the major foreign investors in the country. These companies are active in areas such as oil and gas, renewable energy, water, transport, logistics and aeronautics.
Beyond these infrastructure sectors, France relies on many business leaders, as well as very innovative SMEs and startups, to contribute to the development of emerging activities in Saudi Arabia within the implementation of the ambitious Vision 2030. We have identified sectors, which represent major opportunities of partnerships between French companies and Saudi counterparts. To name a few:
– Tourism, sport, entertainment and culture are areas of great potential,
– Healthcare is a major sector for collaboration, particularly in a post-pandemic context;
– Tremendous opportunities are to be explored in the technology and digital sectors, such as cyber security, smart cities, innovative mobility solutions, fintech, biotech, agritech, just to name a few.
In all these areas, French companies can provide transfer of technology, training, and development of skills, which are all three high priorities in the Saudi agenda.
Besides, in April 2021, the visit of Franck Riester, the French Minister of Commerce and Attractiveness shows our will to reinforce the economic partnership between France and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and explore areas where French companies can contribute to the successful achievement of Saudi Vision 2030. During his visit, meetings with Saudi government officials and exchange of views with representatives of the Saudi business community were very fruitful.
A month later, in May 2021, a French business delegation came to Saudi Arabia as a follow-up of the French Minister’s visit. This delegation consisted of the CEOs of the French leading companies in their respective sectors: engineering services, private equity investment, banking, industrial gases, electric utility and renewable energy, electric and hydrogen vehicles and pharmaceuticals. French Government officials and representatives of Medef International were part of the delegation. These visits are strong signals that France is sending to show our interest in investing in Saudi Arabia.
- What is the volume of Saudi investments in France? Any new investments expected soon?
Saudi Arabia invests only marginally in France for the moment. Nevertheless, Saudi FDIs to France have been multiplied by five over the past decade to reach EUR 427 million in 2019. These investments are mainly in the real estate sector. One cannot deny that Saudis do love the French Riviera where they are always the most welcomed. Saudis own property in France and appreciate the French way of life, our gastronomy, our architectural heritage, culture, and our beautiful landscape.
But France has much more to offer. France is a country of investment opportunities and you may be interested to hear that France has become the most attractive country for international investment in Europe. Over the past years, the French government has embarked on a vast program of pro-business reforms to stimulate competitiveness and innovation, reduce corporate taxation and simplify administrative procedures.
France has launched a very ambitious recovery program with a strong support to strategic industrial sectors such as electronics, telecommunication, healthcare, inputs for industry and agri-food. These sectors, as well as many others, offer profitable opportunities for foreign investors.
So, when considering international investment to expand Saudi business activities, I highly invite you to choose France as your preferred destination.
- What is your assessment of the Saudi government’s measures to confront the Coronavirus?
During the challenging year 2020, the Saudi Government took swift and decisive containment measures to protect human life and limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ongoing vaccination campaign was, and still is, very effective and more than 13 million doses have already been administered.
Saudi Arabia had also an impressive response to the economic crisis in 2020 and took strong measures to mitigate the economic consequences of the pandemic. The Saudi government and the SAMA have injected substantial amount of liquidity to support the economy and limit the impact of the pandemic on businesses, particularly SMEs, and on Saudi workers, while preserving sustainable public finances. Following these measures, the economy is now recovering, and growth prospects for 2021 and 2022 are positive.
Besides, thanks its strong economic fundamentals, and its important financial reserves, Saudi Arabia has the capacity to finance the ambitious giga-projects and other major infrastructure projects of its Vision 2030.
Prospects are promising and business opportunities are huge in so many areas. France is definitely committed to take part in the thriving economic diversification underway. The visit of the French business delegation as I said before is a strong signal of this commitment and we are already working on an action plan to organize business delegations with a focus on specific sectors in the coming months, now that travelling conditions between France and Saudi are eased.
- How did the pandemic impact the French economy?
After dropping markedly in 2020, French economic activity is experiencing a strong rebound in 2021. Following a start to the year marked by ongoing public health restrictions, the phased lifting of the lockdown and acceleration of the vaccination campaign allowed the economy to recover in earnest in the second half. According to our economic surveys, economic activity started to recoup lost ground in the second quarter, despite the emergence of supply difficulties in certain sectors.
It should rebound particularly strongly in the third and fourth quarters, as the gradual easing of the public health restrictions leads to strong household consumption growth. In order to return to the pre-crisis level of economic activity within two years and to actively support employment, the Prime Minister presented on September 3rd, the “France Relance” plan, 2020, result of a broad consultation.
This exceptional two-year €100 bn recovery plan, 40% of which will be financed by the European Union, is being deployed by the government around three main components: ecology – the strategic objective of this plan – to support the transition to a carbon-free and sustainable economy, competitiveness to give companies the most favourable conditions to develop their activities and thus preserve employment, and cohesion to support youth employment and ensure solidarity between generations, territories, and between all French people.
- How do you view the recent social and cultural Renaissance in Saudi Arabia? What role does France intend to play in this regard?
The exceptional changes taking place in Saudi Arabia is what I often call a “silent revolution”. I strongly believe that France has great assets that should be engaged in these changes to further cooperation between our two countries.
The Saudi cultural sector is growing more than ever and we wish to promote links both between our artists and our cultural and entertainment institutions. For instance, the cultural and creative industries and the leisure activities it promotes offer unique prospects for French-Saudi cooperation, particularly in the fields of video games, heritage and cinema. On the artistic scene, we take great pride in our Residencies program that supports emerging artists in the Kingdom. It has been existing for five years and sees every year several Saudi artists from various disciplines benefit from individual support and counselling on their project. We wish to develop it more!
On another hand, we know that there are great opportunities in the scientific and educational field for cooperation. We hope to see more and more Saudis learning in the French educational institutions, especially in sectors for which France has a unique know-how such as the culinary arts and the hotel industry. In this regard, we have the ambition to bring French universities and schools of excellence in the Kingdom. As agreed upon by the different stakeholders, the Saudi Entertainment Academy will issue joint degrees, recognized by the university of Nice, and professional certificates from the Académie de Paris. This superb partnership paves the way for other programs of this type, which will hopefully lead to the establishing of French campuses in the Kingdom. Sciences, IA, medicine are only a few among many other sectors in which France has a recognized expertise. We also want to develop our scientific and research cooperation.
Last but not least, we want to strengthen our presence in the promotion of the Kingdom’s exceptional heritage sites: exhibition routes, visitor experience, tourist labels are all opportunities for French-Saudi cooperation. The development of training the Travel & Tourism sector and the efforts in favor of a local workforce open the way to partnerships in human capital development.
- How do you evaluate the Saudi-French relations in the cultural sector?
The Saudi-French relations in the cultural sector dates back to a long time: General de Gaulle and His Excellency King Faisal were already signing on July 7, 1963 a treaty of cultural and technical cooperation allowing two-way exchanges in these fields. We have come quite far, and we still wish to strengthen our ties in many cultural sectors. Regarding education, we wish to create 10-year French-Saudi chairs at the Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University and with them, exchanges and joint programs, just like the one between l’Académie de Paris and Princess Nourah University which has already trained more than 600 young women! More than ever, we all learnt how crucial the medical field is, and we wish to see 70 Saudi doctors coming in France this year as part of the “Gulf doctors” program. We also look forward to the reinforcement of the teaching of the French language in the Kingdom. French is a language of the future, which will be used by more than 600 million persons by 2050. Our three French schools and our four French Alliances in Riyadh, Jeddah and Khobar, together with many private schools and many universities throughout the country, are already doing a lot to promote French language in Saudi.
We also wish to take part on the many heritage-related projects in Farasan, NEOM, Thaj, AlFaw, Diriyah: AlUla is a great example of the horizons that French-Saudi cooperation can open. Such marvellous places have to be promoted and filmed for the world to see. As a matter of fact, French operators (INA, CNC, CSA, cinémathèque, etc.) are now engaged in a comprehensive partnership with the Film Commission of the Ministry of Culture.
It the sport sector, we are proud to work the Dakar Rallye since two years and we hope to find others projects for cooperation with the Ministry of Sports and federations. On another hand, we also wish to take part in the immense opportunities rising in the field of e-sport, and all of the innovative sectors, be it in the digital, in renewable energies, or even the space: with such great achievements made by French-Saudi cooperations, our ambition to build new projects with the Kingdom knows no boundaries.
- France is very involved in the development of Al Ula. Can you tell us more about this?
Indeed, the cooperation agreement signed under the auspices of President Emmanuel Macron and His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in April 2018 to promote and develop AlUla’s region is one of the richest we have with a foreign partner. We are more than pleased to take part in highlighting the richness of Saudi Arabia’s heritage and grand projects.
The creation of the French Agency for the Development of AlUla (AFALULA), following this agreement, helped fostering cooperation in the touristic, economic and cultural fields of this region. If many projects are undertaken as we speak; we can mention some of them, like the great work led by our archaeological missions of 70 members, in five different heritage sites. For instance, the historical mission of Madä’in Sâlih, created in 2001, is still going under Laïla Nehmé’s direction (CNRS). Many other programs are much more recent, like the ones in Dadan, in AlUla’s old town and oasis, or in Khaybar. All of these new contributions have been engaged during these last two years!
We also provide our expertise by accompanying the Royal Commission for AlUla in the development of a “museum constellation”, composed of eight museums – let me mention the splendour of the one at the Hegra site -, accompanied by a research center for archaeology and art history that will host artist and researchers residencies, but also a language and a cultural institute! To welcome the many tourists that will rush to the site in a few years, the Ateliers Jean Nouvel designed the Sharian complex, a troglodyte hotel carved directly into the rocks.