French arms sales dropped nearly 8.6 percent last year to 8.3 billion euros ($9.3 billion) from 2018, with the United Arab Emirates — a key player in the Yemen conflict — still a leading client, a government report said Tuesday.
France is regularly criticized by rights groups for arms sales to clients such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which are embroiled in a long campaign against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen that has claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives.
A report presented to the French parliament Tuesday showed orders from Europe had grown to 3.47 billion euros — 45 percent of the total, up from a mere quarter the previous year. Belgium accounted for 1.8 million euros in sales.
Middle Eastern clients represented about 30 percent last year with 2.15 billion euros in sales — down from almost 50 percent in 2018 — headed by the UAE with 1.5 billion euros and Saudi Arabia with 208.9 million euros.
The numbers, “achieved in a context of particularly fierce competition confirming America’s supremacy and the emergence of new major exporters, particularly China … consolidates France’s place in the top five of global exporters,” said the report.
In terms of deliveries, 2019 saw 9.9 billion euros worth of arms contracts fulfilled compared to 6.9 billion euros the previous year. Two-thirds of deliveries were to the Middle East — mainly Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
The Middle East, “which includes countries at war and/or repressing their civilian populations represented 60 percent of arms deliveries in 2019,” the Observatory of Arms Transfers NGO said in a statement.
France’s arms industry boasts 200,000 jobs.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia intervened in 2015 to support the Yemeni government against Houthi rebels, which are backed by rival Iran. The UN has classified the Yemen war as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Rights groups accuse Riyadh of using the French weapons against civilians in Yemen. Around 10,000 people have died since the kingdom launched the offensive. But the Paris insists there is no proof Saudi Arabia is targeting civilians.
President Emmanuel Macron calls Riyadh and Abu Dhabi France’s allies in the fight against extremism.
Macron has built a strong relationship with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and they held telephone talks last month, with the French president saying the two countries would “step up our cooperation… to build the post-pandemic world.”