Sheikh Mohamed and Macron
President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan with France's President Emmanuel Macron (right) at Mushrif Palace in Abu Dhabi on May 15, 2022. Image Credit: WAM

ABU DHABI: UAE President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan will visit France beginning July 18, marking his first official state visit outside the region after assuming office in May.

The decades-old relationship between UAE and France is set to receive a big boost with this visit.

The last time Sheikh Mohamed met French President Emmanuel Macron was on May 15 when Macron flew down to Abu Dhabi to congratulate him, and also to condole the death of the late Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. They also met last year – on December 3, when His Highness received Macron at Expo 2020 Dubai where France announced multibillion-Euro deals and on September 15, when they discussed in Paris economic and cultural cooperation, besides the humanitarian fallout of the pandemic.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and French President Emmanuel Macron
His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and French President Emmanuel Macron. Image Credit: WAM

Choice of France for first state visit

“This is the first state visit since His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan took over as the President of the UAE - and France was chosen specifically because of the strategic relationship the two nations have,” said Dr. Anwar Gargash, Diplomatic Adviser to the UAE President, during a media briefing last Friday.

“The relationship with France has grown from military and defence to spanning trade, culture, technology and environment. This visit aims to enlarge on this as well as new areas such as sustainable energy, renewables and other future energies. This is one of President’s priority areas too. France has always played a positive role in the Middle East and North Africa affairs,” he added.

The visit of the UAE President to France must be viewed against a series of developments between the two countries over the past few years.

UAE-France Strategic Dialogue

On June 2, the 14th session of the UAE-France Strategic Dialogue held in Abu Dhabi reflected on the “exceptional partnership” between the two countries and followed the directives set out by the UAE and French Presidents in recent engagements.

The 14th session of the UAE-France Strategic Dialogue held in Abu Dhabi on June 2. Image Credit: WAM

As part of the ambitious 10-year bilateral roadmap of the UAE-France strategic partnership (2020-2030) adopted in June 2020, the meeting involved discussions on strengthening key sectors of bilateral cooperation, such as economy, trade and investment, oil and gas, decarbonised hydrogen, nuclear and renewable energy, climate change, education, culture, health, artificial intelligence, food security, fintech, intellectual property rights, anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism, space and cybersecurity.

The French side reaffirmed its commitment to the security partnership with the UAE under the 2009 bilateral defence agreement, thereby supporting regional stability. In this context, the UAE thanked France for its expression of solidarity and support, as well as for its strong condemnation of the January terrorist attacks on civil facilities in the UAE.

Reflecting on the major achievements of the past decade, the two sides reaffirmed their commitment to projects such as Louvre Abu Dhabi and Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi while sharing an ambition to further bolster bilateral relations by identifying new goals and joint initiatives.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi which attracts thousands of visitors every day. Image Credit: Supplied

Trade between UAE and France 

As of 2020, UAE’s exports to France totaled $984 million, OEC data shows. The main exports were petroleum oils, aluminium, turbo jets, turbo propellors and gas turbines. During the last 25 years, the exports of UAE to France have increased at an annualised rate of 10.5 per cent, from $81.8 million in 1995 to $984 million in 2020.

As of 2020, French exports to the UAE stood at $3.67 billion, and its main exports to the UAE were aircraft. In the last 25 years, France’s exports to the UAE have grown 4.51 per cent per annum from $1.22 billion in 1995 to $3.67 billion in 2020.

600 French companies in UAE

Last year, the UAE agreed to buy 80 Rafale fighter jets from France as part of a 17 billion Euro deal signed during Macron’s visit to the UAE.

The French pavilion at EXPO 2020 Dubai. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Currently, there are more than 600 French companies operating in the UAE.

France is also one of the top biggest foreign investors in the UAE. The stock of French FDI in the UAE stood at 1.25 billion Euros at the end of 2018.

French companies hold prominent positions in several sectors (energy, water, hospitality in particular). Total, which has been present in the UAE market since 1939, is the leading French investor with numerous shareholdings (oil, gas, solar power). Engie plays a significant role in the country’s electricity production. EDF is participating with Masdar in the construction of the world’s largest solar power park in Dubai. Suez is involved in seawater desalination. Veolia is involved in water treatment and energy efficiency. Accor is a top hotel operator in Dubai. On the retail side, Carrefour supermarkets and hypermarkets can be seen dotting the country’s market places.

Over the years, Bpifrance and Mubadala have also built a strong partnership.

During Macron’s official state visit to the UAE, Mubadala announced the signing of two agreements aimed at facilitating investments in sectors of mutual priority and interest in France. These agreements were part of comprehensive economic agreements valued at more than 15 billion euros signed between Emirati and French companies.

In France, the UAE is the second largest investor among the Gulf countries with an FDI stock of 1.46 billion euros in 2018 (or 25 per cent of the region’s investments). About 50 companies are partially or wholly owned by UAE capital in France.

Emphasis on education, people, culture

UAE and France place much importance on education in their bilateral partnership. Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, INSEAD, Paris 2 and 42 Abu Dhabi are being joined by EM Normandie and ESCP as French institutions with campuses or branches in the UAE.

The Paris Sobourne University at Reem Island, Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Gulf News

Around 35,000 French nationals presently call the UAE their home. There are seven French-accredited schools with 10,000 students in the UAE and 60,000 students are learning French at local schools.

UAE and France have a shared priority of advancing Arabic language through a bilateral agreement with Institut du Monde Arabe that promotes the “Certificat International de Maîtrise en Arabe” (International Certificate for Proficiency in Arabic), via the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre to assess proficiency in Modern Standard Arabic in the UAE, considered an essential step in structuring and assessing the quality of Arabic language teaching.

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An event at The Alliance Française in Oud Metha, Dubai. Around 30,000 French nationals currently call the UAE their home. Image Credit: Gulf News

Cultural and creative industries, museums, hospitality management and agro-tech are also priority areas, just as partnerships in the health and space sectors.

Over the years, the UAE-France Cultural Dialogue has seen the implementation of ambitious initiatives and projects demonstrating the talents of creative youth, with arts, artificial intelligence and protection of endangered cultural heritage also receiving due weightage.