(MENAFN - Arab News) More than 500 businessmen from the Kingdom and France will take part in the forthcoming Saudi-French Business Opportunities Forum scheduled in Paris for three days from April 10, French Ambassador Bertrand Besancenot announced.
The envoy was announcing details of the upcoming meeting at a press conference held at the French embassy. Mohamed Ben Laden, chairman of the Saudi French Business Council, and Phillipe Gassmann, economic counselor of the French embassy, were also present at the briefing.
Besancenot said French President Francois Hollande is slated to attend the opening ceremony of the forum, which is to be attended by a number of ministers from both sides, and 200 Saudi and 300 French businessmen.
The holding of the first forum is the result of a joint initiative by Minister of Commerce and Industry Tawfiq Al-Rabiah and French Minister of Foreign Trade Nicole Bricq, the ambassador said, adding that it is the first forum of its kind in Europe.
The ambassador said major French companies had a stake in the Kingdom and the forthcoming meet would also concentrate on developing new areas of cooperation in the small and medium enterprises' (SMEs) sector.
He said the purpose of the forum was to provide French companies with information about investment programs, major projects and business opportunities in Saudi Arabia and to foster Saudi and French SMEs matching through B2B meetings.
He added that the forum gets a strong official backing with the participation of ministers from both sides.
"Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner of France in the region and the bilateral relationship is of paramount importance in the economic field," he said, adding that the bilateral trade has doubled over the last five years, to reach 8.73 billion euros in 2012, up 13 percent compared with 2011.
Saudi Arabia is France's first provider of crude oil. France is the seventh provider of Saudi Arabia. French exports to the Kingdom represented 3.2 billion euros in 2012 with a wide variety of goods, including mechanical, electronic and electric equipment (947 million euros), agro-food products (472 million euros), cosmetics and chemical products (430 million euros), metallic products (298 million euros), pharmaceutical products (263 million euros), aircraft and satellites (230 million euros).
"There is a huge potential for enhanced cooperation in numerous fields in sectors such as oil and gas, water and electricity," he said and emphasized that France wants to develop cooperation in new sectors such as nuclear and renewable energies, energy efficiency, health, urban transportation, housing, agriculture and food.
"There is a huge trade potential between the two countries since the needs of the Kingdom match very well with the know-how of French companies who are world leaders in their respective fields," he added.
These companies are willing to contribute to the diversification of Saudi economy and the creation of jobs for Saudis, particularly young graduates, he said, recalling that the first Suppliers ' Day organized on March 25 in Riyadh by EDF and AREVA targeted to benefit 200 Saudi companies interested to enter the nuclear sector.
Maintaining the Nitaqat quota of the government, he said, there are 70 French companies active in the Kingdom with over 20,000 employees.
France is the third largest investor in the Kingdom (FDI stock of 15.3 billion) while Saudi investment in France is below 600 million euros, mainly in the real estate sector.
Ben Laden later told Arab News that the forum is a major event focused on linking the SMEs of the two countries. He said the meeting, held with the support of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, is organized by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry jointly with the Paris-based Department of Foreign Trade in cooperation with the department of international trade in the Council of Saudi Chambers and the Saudi French Business Council.