Sales of French arms around the world are declining because of stepped-up competition by the United States, Russia and Israel, says the French Defence Ministry.
Although France remains the third-biggest weapons merchant after the United States and Britain, in the period 2002-3 its share of the market has slipped. From 1994 to 2003, French arms sales accounted for 12 percent of the world’s total, and brought in an average of $6.5 billion per year. In 2002 they dropped to $5.75 billion and to $5.6 billion in 2003.
By comparison, U.S. arms exports accounted for $40 billion of some $200 billion in international weapons sales in 2001 alone and have increased steadily since. Interestingly, part of the success of US arms sales is due to the Iraq wars, its "battle-tested" equipment being more attractive to buyers. By contrast, some of the downturn in French sales arises through its loss of Saddam Hussein who was, for a time, France's biggest customer.
Now, complains Jean-Paul Panie, a senior official in the ministry’s arms procurement and sales section: "The Americans' effort to export is much bigger than it used to be."
But, with US arms sales to China heavily restricted by domestic legislation, French manufacturers have an opportunity to penetrate a market where often superior US equipment cannot be sold. Small wonder, therefore, that France is so eager to see the China arms embargo lifted.