(MENAFN - Arab News) Minister of Agriculture Fahd Balghunaim announced an ambitious proposal to team up with France and produce vaccines to control animal diseases in Saudi Arabia.
The move by the ministry will acquire new vaccine technology to control the potential recurrence of several diseases that previously threatened animal farming in the Kingdom.
"Saudi Arabia and France enjoy an excellent relationship and close ties in various sectors including agriculture," Minister Balghunaim told guests at the opening of French Week at the residence of French Ambassador Bertrand Besancenot on Monday.
Balghunaim told Arab News: "The Ministry of Agriculture is discussing plans to renew cooperation in the field of vaccine production with French officials - a plan that was made 20 years ago. We hope to enhance cooperation with France in the field of agriculture and animal resources."
Proposals to produce animal vaccines will be developed in the near future, he added.
"The issue of animal vaccines is very important here in Saudi Arabia because of the outbreak of various animal and poultry diseases reported every now and then," he said. The minister went on to say animal diseases cause many problems in the Kingdom besides inflicting huge economic loss. They also create restrictions on the world livestock trade. Vaccines improve the health and welfare of animals, increase livestock production in a cost-effective manner, and prevent animal-to-human transmission from both domestic animals and wildlife, he added.
The French Week food festival is organized by Carrefour, the French retail giant who operates in the Middle East under UAE-based Majid Al Futtaim Group.
Saudi officials, French diplomats, business leaders from both communities, and Carrefour executives attended the formal launch of French Week food festival at the ambassador's residence. The French ambassador was joined by Alexis Lucas, commercial officer at the French Embassy; Etienne Cavaciuti, Carrefour vice president; and Philippe Lervoy, Carrefour district general manager. Ambassador Besancenot said the French Week food festival aims to tempt Saudis into the world of fine French dining.
"The Kingdom and France have forged closer ties in different areas including the food industry and this festival is evidence of the partnership." Saudis can indulge in a large number of French food products currently on sale at Carrefour's hypermarkets and supermarkets around the Kingdom, he added.
Besancenot said: "The last few years have been especially rich and challenging for the two countries and this contributes to very strong relations between Riyadh and Paris." On a commercial level, the two reported massive growth with two-way trade exceeding 7.7 million euro last year.
The Kingdom confirms its position as the first partner of France in the Middle East in terms of trade and investment, he said. But there is still room for further expansion especially in the food industry, he added.
Saudi Arabia's food market is currently expanding at a rate of 18.5 percent annually. Food and agricultural imports from countries including France, account for 15 percent of overall imports, or SR 64.9 billion. The Kingdom is investing SR 46.1 billion in domestic agricultural projects to acquire land abroad to ensure food security. These initiatives call for more French and European involvement in the Kingdom's food industry.
Carrefour vice president Cavaciuti said: "The French Week food festival is one of our signature events. We are considering moving to another level in the development and operation of shopping malls in the Kingdom with our sister company MAF property."
Carrefour currently operates 12 hypermarkets and supermarkets in the Kingdom.
Cavacuiti said Carrefour serves more than 10 million customers every year and employs more than 2,000 staff. The French retail giant continues to expand globally with more than 9,500 stores operating around the world.