French weapons sales to Saudi jumped 50% last year

France sold about 1bn euros worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, with the main item being patrol boats

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France’s weapons sales to Saudi Arabia rose 50 per cent in 2018, figures released on Tuesday showed.

An annual government report showed that total arms sales rose 30 per cent to 9.1bn euros in 2018, driven by a sharp increase in sales to European allies.

France sold about 1bn euros worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, with the main item being patrol boats.

The French government says its arms sales are governed by strict procedures that are in line with international treaties.

“Maintaining economic relations with these countries means keeping a presence in key regions for our security interests and our energy supplies. It is also about fighting terrorism and protecting our nationals on the ground,” Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said in a preface to the report.

France is among the world’s leading arms exporters, its sales surging in recent years on the back of its first lucrative overseas contracts for Rafale fighter jets, notably to India and Qatar, as well as a multi-billion submarine deal with Australia.

Paris has sought to increase its diplomatic weight in the Middle East through the sale of naval vessels, tanks, artillery and munitions to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

French arms exports to the Middle East increased to 4bn euros from 3.9bn last year, but because of bigger increases elsewhere now make up a smaller share of the total.

The bulk of those sales came from Qatar, which ordered Rafale-fighter jets and helicopters accounting for about 2.4bn euros.

In contrast, sales to Egypt, which has been one of France’s top customers over the last five years, stagnated at about 270m euros and orders from the United Arab Emirates, the other key member of the coalition in Yemen, fell sharply.

France has also been pushing for more sales within the European Union as it looks to stem an aggressive sales policy from the United States and increase the bloc’s security independence.

The report showed a stark improvement on that front with 25 per cent of orders coming from Europe compared to just 10 per cent the previous year, including from Belgium and Spain, which bought helicopters and heavy armoured vehicles.