French arms exports fall sharply, Mideast still lead client
PARIS - French weaponry exports fell sharply last year in the absence of major deals to sell Rafale fighter jets but Middle Eastern clients made up the bulk of orders that were placed, the French Defence Ministry said.
In its annual report to parliament, the ministry said the value of exports dropped to $8 billion from $16.2 billion the previous year and the record $19.7 billion booked in 2015.
Those two years saw the first big export orders for Rafale jets made by Dassault Aviation -- to Egypt, Qatar and India -- following a string of failed efforts to sell the planes outside France.
The Defence Ministry said the 2017 results were “in line” with the average from years before the Rafale contracts. It added that helicopters and missiles made up nearly half of last year's foreign orders.
France, the world's third-biggest arms exporter after the United States and Russia, will book an additional 12 Rafale sales to Qatar this year.
Orders from Middle East clients rose to $4.6 billion from $2.2 billion in 2016, despite an economic slowdown stemming from lower oil prices that delayed some acquisition projects, the ministry said.
NGOs and other critics have assailed France for supplying weapons to Mideast governments, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates over their support for pro-government forces in Yemen fighting Houthi rebels.
About 10,000 Yemeni citizens have died in the fighting and some groups accuse the Saudi-led coalition of bombing schools, hospitals and other civilian targets.
A March poll indicated that 74% of French respondents said they were against selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and 71% were against supplying arms to the United Arab Emirates.
Humanitarian groups say Paris is violating the Arms Trade Treaty it ratified in 2014, which requires exporters to ensure their weapons will not be used for human rights abuses.
Four NGOs denounced the surge in French arms exports to Egypt, including surveillance equipment it says President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's government is using to "eradicate all forms of dissent and citizen action."
Their statement came as Egyptian Defence Minister Mohamed Zaki made an official visit to France on July 2 a week after French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian met with Sisi in Cairo.
The Defence Ministry rejected such claims in its annual report.
"These exports are carried out within a strict legal framework. They scrupulously respect to the letter the treaties and international commitments" signed by France, it said.
The ministry said it rejected 50 export contracts, mainly to governments in central and southern Asia.