x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Businesses work for a stronger French connection to Emirates

French exports have come a long way since the days when cheese, perfume and luxury goods were among the only Gallic products shipped to the UAE's shores.

French exports have come a long way since the days when cheese, perfume and luxury goods were among the only Gallic products shipped to the UAE's shores.

Today, an Airbus A330 , oil equipment, or telecommunications software are just as likely to arrive. The variety of goods is set to be widened further as more French firms eye buyers in the region partly to offset a slump in demand in Europe.

"More and more companies are realising they have to go abroad if they want to grow and save their business," said François Sporrer, the director for the UAE and Qatar at UbiFrance, the trade office of the French government.

"We are observing a new tendency and the UAE and the Middle East is one of those targets."

More than 400 French companies have visited the Emirates on organised business delegations since the start of the year, about 40 per cent more than over the same period last year, UbiFrance data shows. Eleven firms are in the UAE and Qatar at the moment. Modulo Velum, a company based outside Paris, sells stretch fabric for use in exhibitions and other events.

"We see market opportunities here as there are lot of events," said its sales manager Anthony Truong. "Most of our market is in Europe and the opportunities are becoming less. When you don't have the budget, [money for events] is the first thing that tends to be cut."

Trade within the European Union represents about two thirds of most French exporters' totals. But stagnant growth or recession across the euro zone means demand is slowing.

The French government, meanwhile, wants more companies to export. Only 100,000 French companies export their products abroad, compared with twice that number in Italy and four times that in Germany.

Login, another company in the delegation, will consider setting up an office in the region if it can find enough banks interested in its financial software systems.

Half of the company's business is already linked to banks in the Caribbean, South America and elsewhere outside Europe.

"Here, there are banks which are relatively new and are willing to spend money," said Pascale Hertzog, a director at the firm based in Paris. "In Europe there are no prospects at the moment as the market either has software in place already or [companies] are not willing to spend."

France has a 3 per cent share of the UAE's trade market with exports rising by 5 per cent to reach €3.65 billion (Dh16.74bn) last year.

Aircraft, mechanical and electrical equipment and consumer goods are among the biggest exports but the country is looking to broaden the mix to include health, telecoms and environmental technology.

"Since the beginning of the year, activity has increased tremendously," said Mr Sporrer.

French firms are increasingly considering the UAE as their first foreign market over other destinations such as China, he said.

"In terms of regulations and customs it is not that complicated and probably easier than exporting to China, Asia and maybe South America," he said.

Businesses perception of the Emirates has also improvedas Dubai has started to resolve its debt problems and the country has returned to robust growth, he said.

tarnold@thenational.ae

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