France still world’s number 4 arms exporter in spite of sales drop


French arms exports dropped by 37% to 5.12 billion euros last year, the French defence ministry has said, citing the economic downturn affecting global weapons purchases. However, France has kept its spot as fourth largest global arms exporter.

On Wednesday the French defence ministry said that last year the competitiveness of French industry allowed it to maintain its position as the world’s fourth-largest exporter of defence equipment. “With 5.12 billion euros booked, 2010 orders reflect the strong performance of our industry in a difficult environment.”

In 2009 France made 8.16 billion euros worth of arms sales. Last year’s foreign sales were secured in a “difficult climate and in an extremely volatile context,” a Defence Ministry spokesman, Army General Philippe Ponties, told journalists.

France held a 6 percent share of the world market based on an annual average of deliveries, behind the United States, which dominates with a 53.7 percent share, Britain with 12.5 percent, and Russia with 8.2 percent, the French ministry of defence report said.

The world market was estimated at 60 billion to 70 billion euros in annual sales, Ponties said.

The export market now accounts for 32% of sales of French aerospace and defence companies, and there is a substantial potential for further growth, the French ministry of defence said.

During the 2006-2010 period, the Middle East accounted for 27% of orders booked by French industry, thereby reinforcing its traditional position as the main buyer of French equipment.

Latin America, with 25%, has almost reached the same level, mainly because of large contracts with Brazil. Asia, with 18%, has a smaller but very significant position, and it is hoped that successes in India could help increase Asia’s future share. Finally, Europe accounts for 17% of French export orders.

In 2010, France’s main export customers were Saudi Arabia, Brazil, India and Malaysia.

Major deals sealed last year included a sale of the A330 multirole tanker transport aircraft to Saudi Arabia, Cougar helicopters to Malaysia, and the upgrade of Alphajet trainer jets for Morocco.

This year, France sold two Mistral-class command and projection ships to Russia, and signed a long-awaited contract to modernize Mirage 2000 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force.

Winning a big contract for 60 Rafale fighter jets with the United Arab Emirates has proved elusive, as the UAE balked at an initial $10 billion price tag.

Defense Minister Gérard Longuet said Paris is in “final negotiations” with the UAE on the Rafales, but there has been no comment from UAE authorities.

Ponties said that French arms sales are part of Paris’ foreign policy toolkit and are vital to maintaining the country’s defence technology and industry base as they support 135 000 jobs domestically.

Ponties said that sales are conducted under a strict export control regime, but it is worth noting that last year France granted 65 export licenses for Libya (for a total value of 192 million euros), and 37 for Tunisia (worth 15 million euros), two countries whose regimes have since been overthrown.)