France and Saudi Arabia

Political relations

France’s relations with Saudi Arabia are based on common strategic interests: preserving security in a troubled region, a common commitment to combating terrorism, and a convergence of views on regional crises. The regularity of bilateral official visits demonstrates the robustness of the strategic partnership between France and Saudi Arabia. They help deepen our dialogue in these areas, and are a framework of confidence to discuss issues important to France, such as respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including those of women, and the use of the death penalty.

Recent visits

  • 5 January 2018: visit by the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Adel Al-Jubeir, to Paris.
  • 15-16 November 2017: visit by the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Mr Jean-Yves Le Drian, to Riyadh.
  • 9 November 2017: visit by the President of the French Republic, to Riyadh.
  • 6 October 2017: visit by the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Adel Al-Jubeir, to Paris.
  • 24 January 2017: visit by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault, to Riyadh.

Economic relations

In 2016, our exports to Saudi Arabia (excluding military equipment) stood at €4.14 billion, as against €3.14 billion in 2015 (+31.8% year-on-year). Our imports, meanwhile, fell by more than 25% over the same period, from €5.1 billion in 2015 to €3.8 billion in 2016. This very strong drop in value in our imports can be explained firstly by the fall in global oil prices which had a mechanical impact on our trade balance, and secondly by a diversification in our oil suppliers whereby our oil imports fell from €3.72 billion in 2015 (73% of overall imports) to €2.37 billion in 2016 (62.5%).

Consequently, while our trade balance historically posts a deficit because of the structure of our trade, it produced a surplus of €348 million in 2016. Over the first seven months of 2017, our exports stood at €2.55 billion (+54% year-on-year), while we imported goods worth €2.56 billion (+23%), producing a near balance that could, however, be eliminated by the expected recovery of oil prices.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan offers new prospects for French companies, particularly in the sustainable cities, resource management, health and training, energy and tourism sectors and in investment. To be more attractive, French companies’ projects need to comply with the three criteria applicable to the new economic configuration sought by the Saudi authorities under the Vision 2030 plan: technology transfers, “Saudization”, jobs and training.

For more information, visit http://www.tresor.economie.gouv.fr/pays/arabie-saoudite (in French)

Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation

Our cultural and technical cooperation in Saudi Arabia is focused on three areas:

  • Academic, vocational and health training.
  • Improving governance with a view to gradually establishing the rule of law.
  • Strengthening France’s influence through educational, linguistic and cultural cooperation.

Study in France is increasingly popular among Saudi students. Currently, 1,400 Saudi students are studying in France under King Abdullah’s scholarship programme which sponsors the sending of 130,000 students abroad.

In the health sector, a medical specialist training programme, based on an intergovernmental agreement signed in 2011, has made it possible to train hundreds of doctors since 2006.

In the area of research, the signature in 2016 of a scientific cooperation agreement between the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST, the equivalent of a Research Ministry and Academy of Sciences combined) and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) has already led to high-level cooperation projects. A symposium involving some 40 scientists from the two countries was thus held in Riyadh from 21-24 November 2016.

Teaching of French

French is taught at three schools in Saudi Arabia, run in Riyadh by the Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE) and in Jeddah and Khobar by the French Secular Mission (MLF). They school almost 3,200 learners.

Saudi Arabia’s Alliance Française branch was established in October 2010 to supervise the three French language centres in the country, in Riyadh, Jeddah and Khobar. The Alliance Française was recognized by the Saudi authorities as a cultural centre in 2016 and can now therefore organize cultural events, so long as they are non-mixed.

French is also taught in Saudi private schools situated in Riyadh and Jeddah. These schools may offer the French curriculum (French diplomas sat at the French schools in Riyadh or Jeddah), or the teaching of French as a foreign language (DELF or DALF).

In the academic sphere, three universities in the country have French departments:

Cultural outreach and French archaeological missions in the country

In the cultural field, our activities are most often limited to diplomatic premises, given the local legislation.

Our programmes to preserve and promote heritage, particularly in Jeddah and Riyadh, also contribute to consolidating our influence. Training was launched in January 2014 for staff from the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, in partnership with the National Heritage Institute and the Louvre Museum.

There are also seven French archaeological missions in Saudi Arabia, covering all the country’s regions apart from Najran (mission relocated to the north-west opposite the Gulf of Aqaba) and studying the Saudi Arabia’s most emblematic sites (Nabatean tombs of Mada’in Saleh, ancient city of Thāj, Dumat al-Jundal oasis) .

Updated: 18 January 2018

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