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France and Kuwait

Presentation

Political relations

France and Kuwait have a long-standing, confident bilateral relationship. The United States remains the keystone of Kuwait’s security system, with more than 20,000 American soldiers stationed there. However, Kuwait is open to diversified relations, including with the other permanent members of the Security Council and with emerging powers.

A strong memory remains of France’s contribution to liberating Kuwait in 1991, and its firmness on implementing Kuwait-linked UN resolutions on Iraq (acknowledgment of the border, payment of compensation, return of archives and remains of Kuwaiti soldiers) is appreciated.

Visits

Kuwaiti visits to France

  • September 2012: Prime Minister, Sheikh Jaber Al-Sheikh Sabah.
  • November 2012: Minister of Communication and Transport, Mr Salim Alozainah.
  • November 2013: Minister of Education and Higher Education, Dr Falah Al-Hajraf.
  • January 2014: Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sheikh Sabah.
  • January 2014: Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr Marzouq Ali al-Ghanim.
  • February 2014: Managing Director of the Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA), Mr Bader Mohammad Al Saad.
  • February 2014: Minister of Finance, Mr Anas Khalid Al Saleh.
  • September 2014: Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sheikh Sabah.
  • May 2015: Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sheikh Sabah.
  • June 2015: Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sheikh Sabah.
  • October 2015: Prime Minister, Sheikh Jaber Al-Sheikh Sabah.

French visits to Kuwait

  • March 2012: Minister for Industry, Energy and the Digital Economy, Mr Éric Besson.
  • March 2013: Minister of Foreign Trade, Ms Nicole Bricq.
  • April 2013: Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Guillaud.
  • May 2014: Minister Delegate for Veterans, Mr Kader Arif.
  • January 2015: Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Mr Laurent Fabius.
  • March 2015: Minister of State for Development and Francophonie, Ms Annick Girardin.
  • June 2015: Minister of Defence, Mr Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Economic relations

Trade between France and Kuwait is rising again and the growth of our exports in 2015 is notable (+122% year-on-year).

The total value of our trade reached €1.7 billion in 2015, compared to 1.3 billion in 2014. This 31% increase year-on-year brought us from an almost constant trade deficit (-€257 million in 2014) to a comfortable surplus of €510 million. This reversal is explained by the strong rise in French exports to Kuwait, supported by sales of aircraft and transport equipment: €733 million compared to €114 million in 2014; purchase of 25 Airbus aircraft in 2013 (€1.3 billion), with a second payment made in 2015. French exports rose by 122% to €1.11 billion in 2015, compared to €500 million in 2014. France has been Kuwait’s tenth-largest supplier since 2014, behind Germany and South Korea but ahead of India and Italy.

Imports from Kuwait fell markedly in 2015, impacted drastically by the collapse in world crude oil prices – as they are made up of 97% hydrocarbon products. Having recovered very clearly in 2012 (+331%) and in 2013 (+49%), Kuwait’s imports totalled €604 million in 2015, compared to €754 million in 2014 – a fall of 20% year-on-year. In 2014, France was Kuwait’s 13ᵗʰ-largest customer, according to the IMF.

Our market share, which had been falling regularly since the 2000s, has stabilized at around 3% since 2014, compared to 6.3% in 1994.

The potential of the Kuwaiti market should be confirmed in 2016.
Despite the recent deterioration of its public accounts (budget deficit of €21 million forecast for the 2015-2016 tax year), Kuwait is considered an advantageous and solvent market. Almost US $30 billion of contracts were awarded in 2015, compared to US $27 billion in 2014. At the initiative of the government, which is aware of the shortfall in infrastructure and industrial equipment, this trend could continue in 2016, when the value of contracts awarded could reach $40 billion according to the Ministry of Planning. The hydrocarbons, health, transport and utilities sectors are promising.

Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation

France-Kuwait cooperation is carried out in the framework of a cultural, scientific and technical cooperation agreement based on a bilateral agreement signed in Paris on 18 September 1969, supplemented by an archaeological cooperation agreement signed on 1 March 1983 and a Protocol for cooperation in the health field, signed in 2006. Like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman, Kuwait enjoys preferential conditions for the training in France of its specialist doctors.

France has a special place in Kuwait and represents a doorway to Europe, with a positive image in the country as regards culture, education and academia. Following the signing of a letter of intent to strengthen cooperation on the French language on 27 January 2015 by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, French was introduced experimentally in several primary schools from the 2015 intake.

The French high school (lycée) in Kuwait is approved by the Agency for French education Abroad (AEFE) and has a special status in that it has a private Kuwaiti owner. It has 1300 students, including 15% French, 12% Kuwaitis and 73% other nationalities. 50% of its Kuwaiti students go on to study in France.

The Institut français (French Institute) in Kuwait was created in 2012 and ties together the whole cultural network, built on the merging of the Institut Voltaire (language centre) and the Cercle Francophone (Francophone Circle) of Kuwait, which held more than 20,000 works.

France-Kuwait academic cooperation is developing in a context where the model of the English-speaking world is dominant. The scientific education sector, and particularly engineering and business schools, are the main centres of interest for Kuwaiti students. About 100 students are enrolled in French higher education institutions, making France the tenth-largest destination for Kuwaiti students. Moreover, the creation of a French department at Kuwait University has given French a lasting place in the country’s academic landscape.

In the field of medical training, an agreement signed in 2006 allows a contingent of ten Kuwaiti doctors per year to undertake specialized training in France, in identical conditions to those of French medical interns.

Several French bodies, including the French Office for Geological and Mining Research (BRGM), IFP Energies nouvelles, and the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (IFREMER), develop cooperation actions in partnership with the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR), which is chaired by the Minister of Education and Higher Education.

France has been active in the archaeology field since 1983. Excavation projects focus on the Failaka Island, which is home to a Hellenistic fortress and a Nestorian Christian church. The French team of experts is currently the largest of the foreign contingents in Kuwait. This team has an interesting composition, and involves the IFPO (French Institute for the Near East), Kuwait National Council for Culture, Art and Letters (NCCAL), and Total (which funds researcher travel to the tune of €20,000). The production of the first Franco-Kuwaiti documentary showcasing the historical heritage of Failaka was planned in 2015.

Updated: 25 March 2016

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