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Vision Golfe 2024's Record Attendance Points To The Growing Economic Ties Between France And The GCC More than 1,200 people came together for Vision Golfe 2024 which was designed to facilitate the creation of new businesses and foster the signing of more contracts.

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More than 1,200 people came together for the second edition of Vision Golfe, which was staged from June 4-5, 2024, at the French Ministry of Economy, Finance, Industrial and Digital Sovereignty in Paris.

Organized by Business France, the French government agency supporting the international development of the country's economy, Vision Golfe is an annual event that aims to foster trade cooperation between France and the nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Held under the patronage of French President Emmanuel Macron, Vision Golfe 2024 saw the attendance of more than 500 stakeholders from the GCC, which included high-level speakers like French Minister of Economy Bruno Le Maire, Bahrain Minister of Health Dr. Jaleela bint AlSayed Jawad Hasan, Oman Minister of Energy and Minerals Eng. Salim Al Aufi, French Agency for AlUla Development (AFALULA) President Jean-Yves Le Drian, and several others.

A scene from Vision Golfe 2024. Source: Business France

Vision Golfe 2024 was designed to facilitate the creation of new businesses and foster the signing of more contracts. By bringing together key stakeholders from both regions, it provided a platform for networking, knowledge exchange, and strategic partnerships. This collaboration is expected to lead to increased investment flows, innovative projects, and mutually beneficial ventures.

Commenting on the event, Laurent Saint-Martin, CEO, Business France, said, in a statement, "In a world facing crises of all kinds and amid significant tensions in the Near and Middle East, we at Business France, alongside our Gulf partners, have chosen to build bridges. By leveraging shared expertise, cultural exchange, and mutual investment opportunities, Vision Golfe seeks to create a resilient and prosperous future with our exceptional Gulf partners with which France maintains high-quality bilateral cooperation. I hope that we, both individually and collectively, will meet the expectations and needs of our Gulf partners, whose high standards should compel us. The competition is fierce. Let's rise to the occasion."

Bilateral engagement was definitely the focus of Vision Golfe 2024, with the event seeing the attendance of more than 40 officials, which included GCC ambassadors to France, French diplomats, and representatives from Saudi, Qatari, Kuwaiti, Bahraini, Omani and UAE authorities, as well as CEOs of companies in both France and the GCC.

Oman Minister of Energy and Minerals Eng. Salim Al Aufi at Vision Golfe 2024. Source: Business France

Significant agreements were also forged on-site, including one between the Saudi Ports Authority (MAWANI) and France's Grand Port of Marseille Fos, which, given their strategic positions at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, symbolized the strengthening of maritime connections within the framework of the construction of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC).

An agreement was also signed between Export Bahrain and the French Chamber of Commerce to promote Bahraini exports, while also facilitating business relations between France and Bahrain. Another key highlight was the establishment of the France Lab at the Abu Dhabi-based Mohamed Bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI).

According to Axel Baroux, Regional Director for the Middle East at Business France, and French Trade and Invest Commissioner to the UAE, such announcements underscored the significance of this year's installment of Vision Golfe. "This has been an amazing edition of the event, with 20% more delegates than last year," he noted. "We've got concrete business happening here!" Baroux also believed that the event had delivered on its promise to build on the already strong ties between France and the GCC. "We have a long history of friendship between our country and the GCC," he said. "Despite all the competition, I believe that working hard consistently and mutual trust between our partners is the recipe for success."

Related: Business France's Axel Baroux Welcomes The GCC Business Community To France For Vision Golfe 2024

Saudi Arabia's H.H. Princess Noura Faisal Al Saud at Vision Golfe 2024. Source: Business France

The productive relationship that France and the GCC nations share was also vouched for by H.H. Princess Noura Faisal Al Saud, who attended Vision Golfe in her role as an advisor to the Group CEO of Saudi Arabian business conglomerate Al-Othaim. "The relationship between France and the GCC has been going back years and years," she noted. "Business has always been the exchange between two countries, and cultural exchange has also always been there. I believe there is so much room to do business."

Given how France has always been a destination of choice for GCC citizens and residents, Al Saud noted that French brands stand to gain a lot if they choose to do business in these nations. "If your target audience appreciates what you're offering [in France], it makes sense to be present and provide the same experience in their own country," she said. That said, she admitted that while French companies often see the potential presented by the GCC, they are often hesitant about making the move on their own. "My answer to that is to try to find a good partner whom you could work with," she added. "However, they need to act quickly, because the market is getting very competitive."

Christophe Bourland, CEO of First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB) in France, agreed with this sentiment, noting that there is a lot of incentive for French businesses to explore the GCC market- and this is especially true given the ongoing shifts in the global economy. Indeed, Bourland recalled how, years ago, his father would counsel him to "go West," but now, such advice would have to rephrased as to "go East." Here, Bourland noted how the UAE has especially come into its own a place for investment in the GCC, with entrepreneurs known to flock to the opportunities it presents. "Investors are looking for new opportunities beyond the traditional markets like London, New York, or Paris, and the UAE offers significant incentives to welcome young entrepreneurs who want to succeed," he added.

Entrepreneur Middle East Editor in Chief Aby Sam Thomas led a panel discussion at Vision Golfe 2024 with Amal Ameen, Founder, Amal Ameen Group; H.H. Princess Noura Faisal Al Saud, CGEO Consultant, Al Othaim Investment; Geoffroy Bunetel, Chief of Staff, Chalhoub Group; Patrick F. Bousquet-Chavanne, Abu Dhabi Retail Program Lead, Abu Dhabi Investment Office; and Hugo Weber, VP - Corporate Affairs and Impact, MIRAKL. Source: Business France

Amr Mohamed Metwally, Associate Executive Director of the ITQAN Clinical Simulation and Innovation Center in Doha, Qatar, concurred with Bourland, saying, "The GCC has the population, the awareness, regulatory improvement, and capital. Speaking about Qatar specifically, US$5.3 billion was promised to be spent on the healthcare market. There was also a $1 billion venture capital fund announced at Web Summit Doha, which was staged recently. We are seeing the opportunities in tech, fintech, and healthcare."

However, Metwally urged French businesses looking to make the move to the GCC to do their due diligence, and be prepared to invest time and effort in the region. Plus, he urged them to remember that the GCC is made up of different nations, and as such, each country needs to have a strategy specific to it. Business maturity levels differ from nation to nation, as well as sector to sector- significant value therefore needs to be placed on researching and creating a good idea that will solve a problem in these markets. "You must also be willing to relocate to the region if you choose to invest," he added. "Because you must build trust in the market- which means a lot in the region. In the GCC, if we trust you, then we will work with you."

"There is so much room to do business," Princess Noura added. "And it's about how you can do it, finding the right partner, understanding the market, and catering to the right demographic. Understand the day-to-day [mechanics] of the region, understand the policies and infrastructure, and with the right partner, it will be a stronger and better collaboration."

Related: Bolstering Bridges Between France And The GCC: A Look Back At The Inaugural Edition Of Vision Golfe
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