PARIS, Jan 26 — French authorities stressed here the importance of the visit of Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to Kuwait on Tuesday, noting the strong political ties between the two nations and the growing significance of trade and other exchanges.
“This is an important visit, especially as we have recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic relations with this country,” French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said in answer to KUNA questions.
Fabius, 68, a former Prime Minister and veteran government minister, as well as a close ally of President Francois Hollande, will hold talks with a host of high-level officials in the Gulf country, topped by talks with His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.
Talks are also scheduled with First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah and other senior figures.
Political and regional issues will be on the agenda for the talks, as will economic cooperation and a French desire to boost trade and investment ties with Kuwait.
Fabius will also be discussing a Paris-sponsored major international conference in December 2015, which will address global warming and climate issues.
“We have a full dialogue with Kuwait on a large number of subjects, including the fight against climate change, for example,” Nadal indicated.
On the economic front, Fabius is arriving in Kuwait with a large business delegation to discuss how France can play a role in the Gulf nation’s major infrastructure projects.
“On bilateral economic relations, trade – exports just like imports – has greatly increased and is now at the highest level for 30 years,” the French official pointed out.
The resumption of the joint economic commission last year, after a break of several years, was a key factor in increased trade, Nadal told KUNA.
After a slump over several years, bilateral trade in 2013 rose to Eur 1.8 billion (USD 1.92 billion) but declined sharply in 2014, although figures are not yet published. The 2013 figure compares with Eur 1.0 billion (USD 1.2) in 2012 and only Eur 467 million (USD 560 million) in 2011, according to the latest figures Monday from the French Economy Ministry.
In 2009, bilateral trade was valued at Eur 948 million (USD 1.14 billion) before sliding over a two-year period.
The French Foreign Ministry, which now governs trade isues, indicated that the trade increase in 2013 was largely due to a sharp hike in exports to Kuwait, which were up 139 percent that year, and also due to an increase in French purchases of refined petroleum products from Kuwait.
France was running a Eur 350 million trade deficit with Kuwait for the first 10 months of 2014 compared with a deficit of EUR 234 million in 2013, according to the most recent data, but 2013 was described as “an exceptional year” by French diplomats.
Nonetheless, France’s market share in the Kuwaiti economy at around 4.5 percent is still small and France is ranked only ninth among countries trading with the Gulf nation (2013 figures).
“France’s market share is below market opportunities,” the French embassy in Kuwait said in an analysis.
While Kuwait can be considered… to be a market that is both important and solvent, the French presence and the relative weight of our country are not at the level they should be,” the embassy added.
Fabius will be seeking to have an impact on this situation during his trip and he has been promoting a new policy of “Economic Diplomacy” since he beefed up his power in the government by absorbing the Trade Ministry into the Foreign Ministry.
French companies; some of whom will be travelling with Fabius, have expressed interest in a number of projects in Kuwait’s four-year development plan, including in the energy, environment, transport and infrastructure sectors.
Among projects France expressed an interest in are a subway or metro system for Kuwait City, a desalination plant, a construction project for another terminal at Kuwait International Airport, a new campus at Kuwait University and a number of new hospitals, in addition to refurbishing other health facilities.
Many in the French leadership regularly recall that France needs to boost economic ties to the level of the “excellent political relations” between the two countries.
Bilateral military ties between France and Kuwait are also very strong. France took part in the international Coalition to expel the Iraqi occupation army from Kuwait in 1991 and a Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed between Kuwait and France in 1993.
In 2009, this agreement was revitalised and expanded to lay the foundations for “a strategic partnership” which includes joint military exercises of the kind just completed by naval forces in Kuwait. Other elements include training and participation of French military personnel in servicing, repairing and upgrading Kuwaiti military equipment.
Kuwait and France signed a culture agreement in 1969 and contacts and exchanges have grown throughout the years, leading to accords on education and other activities, notably and most recently with the Institut des Etudes Politiques (Science Po), France’s elite school for future politicians and leaders in several sectors.
Kuwait has also played an active role in supporting cultural institutions in France, primarily through generous donations from His Highness the Amir to the Arab World Institute (IMA) and the Louvre Museum as it built an 8th Department for Islamic Art.