26 Oct 2011 By PIERRE TRAN DefenseNews
PARIS - French arms export orders fell in 2010, but the country held its ranking as the world's fourth-largest exporter, an annual report on foreign defense sales to parliament said Oct. 26.
Exports declined to 5.12 billion euros ($7.12 billion) in 2010 from 8.16 billion euros in the previous year, according to the report.
The foreign sales were secured in a "difficult climate and in an extremely volatile context," a Defense Ministry spokesman, Army Gen. Philippe Ponties, told journalists.
Exports are seen as vital to French defense industry and the government, as the domestic budget is expected to fall sharply as part of deficit reduction plans.
A major objective next year is to pursue at a New York conference an international treaty on arms sales, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.
France held a 6 percent share of the world market based on an annual average of deliveries, behind the United States, which dominates with a 53.7 percent share, Britain with 12.5 percent, and Russia with 8.2 percent, the report said.
The world market was estimated at 60 billion to 70 billion euros in annual sales, Ponties said.
Major deals sealed last year included a sale of the A330 multirole tanker transport aircraft to Saudi Arabia, Cougar helicopters to Malaysia, and the upgrade of Alphajet trainer jets for Morocco.
This year, France sold two Mistral-class command and projection ships to Russia, and signed a long-awaited contract to modernize Mirage 2000 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force.
Winning a big contract for 60 Rafale fighter jets with the United Arab Emirates has proved elusive, as the UAE balked at an initial $10 billion price tag.
Defense Minister Gérard Longuet said Paris is in "final negotiations" with the UAE on the Rafales, but there has been no comment from UAE authorities.
Paris supports foreign arms sales, which are seen as a key foreign policy tool, helping France hold its place at the top in international affairs, Ponties said.
The sales are conducted under a strict export control regime, he said.
The foreign contracts also are seen as vital to maintaining the country's defense industry and technology base and supporting 135,000 directly employed in the domestic economy, he said.