RIYADH: A French delegation on a three-day trip to Saudi Arabia has expressed high hopes for the Kingdom’s future through investment opportunities in emerging sectors and enhanced bilateral relations.
With direct investments amounting to more than $4.37 billion, France has become one of Saudi Arabia’s largest investors.
“We are really convinced that Saudi Arabia has a very promising market for French companies,” Laurent Germain, chairman of the MEDEF (Movement of the Enterprises of France) International France-Saudi Arabia Business Council, told Arab News during his fourth mission to the Kingdom.
“The Saudi economy is robust, and the growth forecast for the next 10 years is very promising.”
Germain pointed out that the digital and healthcare sectors had particularly caught France’s eye, calling it the “new economy” and he said French companies were committed to increasing and diversifying their investment in the Saudi economy.
“We have a lot of startups and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) in France specialized in high-value technologies, and the objective is for them to have more access to the Saudi market,” he added.
Last year, the MEDEF delegation saw the arrival of 100 representatives from 80 French companies, having “solid” expertise in many sectors, including tourism, healthcare, and entertainment.
This year’s delegation, spearheaded by Germain, was received by Dr. Khaled Al-Yahya, secretary-general of the Council of Saudi Chambers (CSC), on a three-day trip to meet with Saudi ministries, government entities, and French companies based in the Kingdom.
Germain said: “What was clear in the discussions was that all the ministries now have a clear strategy, and clear targets. For the Ministry of Tourism having 100 million visitors (by 2030), for the energy ministry to have 50 percent of the energy produced through renewables, and now each ministry has an action plan. And what we discussed is how the French firms can help the different ministries in order to achieve these goals.”
The CSC has been working alongside MEDEF International — a French non-profit organization — toward enhancing the role of the foreign private sector by developing its strategies in line with Vision 2030.
Francois Touazi, vice chairman of the MEDEF International France-Saudi Arabia Business Council, said: “We’re also here to have an update. Despite the (coronavirus disease) COVID-19 pandemic, Saudi Arabia was very active, and we have been very impressed by all the projects that have been announced — the Line, for example, the plans to transition to hydrogen — we’re very excited to be part of this new adventure.”
The transition to renewable energy is a new undertaking of Saudi Arabia and part of its goals for sustainable development strategies under Vision 2030.
“This is a sector where the French firms have great expertise. Both the big companies like Electricite de France (EDF), Engie, and others,” Germain said.
“But we also have SMEs and startups very much advanced on this issue and the combination of both can bring a very interesting offer to the Saudi market.
“I think we have very clearly identified the different sectors where the tenders will be issued, because what is key for the companies is to know about the projects, about the timelines, the tenders, when the tenders will be out so that they can prepare themselves to be effective.”
The MEDEF recently signed a framework agreement with the Saudi investment ministry (MISA) to boost bilateral investment relations and support long-term partnerships in emerging sectors, including tourism, healthcare, and entertainment.
“Through the meetings we have had during that delegation, we have a clear view on what the projects are going to be, when the tenders are going to be issued, and what the criteria are for the French companies to win the tenders,” he added.
Armed with this information, the French delegation will return to France and inform private companies of what will enable them to win bids in order to successfully penetrate the Saudi market.
“The financing of the projects of Vision 2030 have been confirmed and this gives visibility to the French companies and motivates them to invest more into the Saudi market,” Germain said.
Plans to arrange a Saudi delegation for France to meet its counterparts and encourage SMEs are in the pipeline, according to Faiz Alelweet, vice president of the Saudi-French Business Council.
On French-Saudi ties being possibly affected by the French elections next year, Germain said: “France recognizes all the potential that Saudi Arabia has in the region, but also in the world.
“It is very much aware that Saudi Arabia is now a key player of the G20, that the growth forecast in Saudi Arabia is very strong, that there is political will in the diversification of the economy of Saudi Arabia, that this is a tremendous opportunity for French companies, and that’s why there will be a continuity whoever wins the presidency.”
The mission will also be visiting Jeddah for talks with officials and business leaders there.