(MENAFN - AFP) Major orders from India and Malaysia helped lift French arms exports to a value of 6.5 billion euros (8.4 billion) last year, according to a parliamentary report published on Thursday.
The total, a 27-percent rise in value terms from 2010, ensured France remained the world's fourth-biggest exporter, behind the United States, Russia and Britain.
Over the period 2006-2011, France's defence ministry estimates that the United States had 44 percent of the world market, Russia 14 percent, Britain 11 percent, France 8.5 percent and Israel 5.5 percent.
The Asia Pacific region took 42 percent of French exports last year, buoyed in particular by a contract with India for the modernisation of 51 French-built Mirage 2000 fighter jets and an order from Malaysia for parts for armoured vehicles.
Over the last five years, the Middle East has been France's most important market, accounting for 26 percent of orders, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates the leading purchasers.
The report underlines that France's market share is likely to come under attack from emerging rivals.
"China, Brazil, South Africa and, of course, India all want to enter the club of major exporters," it says. The report also notes that South Korea has set a target of three billion euros of sales for 2012, an objective which, if met, would put it sixth in the table of exporters.
France's defence sector supports 165,000 jobs and with domestic spending being cut, exports are increasingly important for a sector which has strategic importance for the country's industrial base, the report states.
Defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is drawing up a plan to support small and medium-sized defence companies which will notably simplify the process of obtaining licences for arms exports.
But the government said that it would remain vigilant with regard to the arms trade.