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13 April 2024

Hollande arrives in UAE on trade charm offensive

French President Francois Hollande.


French President Francois Hollande has arrived in the UAE capital to participate in the ‘Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week' being hosted here by 'Masdar'.

Hollande was received at the airport by Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi, Minister of Foreign Trade.

Mohammad Mir Abdullah Al Raisi, UAE Ambassador to France, Alain Azouaou, the French Ambassador to the UAE and members of the embassy were also present.

The French president will deliver keynote speech at the official opening of 'Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week' which coincides with the launch of the 'World Future Energy Summit' (WFES).

The visit underscores the strong bilateral relationship between both countries and the mutual interest to accelerate clean energy deployment and diversify the global energy mix.

Hollande, backed by a top-level team comprising the heads of blue-chip companies as well as his defence, foreign, industrial recovery and environment ministers, will hold meetings with the rulers and senior officials from Dubai and Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

The president's office said it wanted to buttress its commercial relations with the UAE, its biggest market in the region.

More than 500 French companies are based in the UAE, which had nearly four billion euros of investments in France last year.

"We are not ashamed of backing our companies," the Elysee presidential office said in a statement.

Abu Dhabi is Hollande's first stop during the lightning one-day trip. He will a renewable energy conference and a French military base set up in 2009, home to 500 troops.

France is keen to make its first foreign sale of the Rafale, which has struggled to find buyers, to support a project that has cost tens of billions of euros.

A diplomatic source said no contract would be signed during Hollande's visit but the potential sale was being discussed.

"The file is still on the table, it is obviously of great interest for French industry, it is being followed closely. It has chances of succeeding," the source said.

After years of negotiating a purchase from the French aerospace firm Dassault, the UAE in late 2011 asked for a counter-offer from the Eurofighter consortium -- made up of Britain's BAE Systems, Italy's Finmeccanica and the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS).

France is hoping the UAE will buy about 60 fighters in a boost to the struggling Rafale programme.

Qatar and Kuwait have indicated they are interested in Rafales but are waiting to see if the UAE will buy them first.

Another vital issue is French oil giant Total's concession, which expires in 2014 and is up for renewal.

The concession is currently held by the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (Adco), a consortium of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) (60 per cent), international oil majors BP, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Total (9.5 per cent stake each) and Portugal's Partex (2 per cent).

"Hollande will bring up all issues of major interest for our country and the Total concession is part of it," the Elysee said.

In Dubai, Hollande will address a press conference and also meet members of the French community -- the largest expatriate group with 18,000 members.

Other issues on the agenda will be energy cooperation, the Syrian crisis and the impasse on the Iranian nuclear standoff, French officials said.