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Bolstering Bridges Between France And The GCC: A Look Back At The Inaugural Edition Of Vision Golfe Held under the patronage of French President Emmanuel Macron, Vision Golfe was staged by Business France, a French government agency that supports the international development of the country's economy.

By Gina Bagnulo

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Vision Golfe.

This article was co-written with Aby Sam Thomas, Editor in Chief, Entrepreneur Middle East

The inaugural edition of Vision Golfe, a two-day conference aimed at boosting economic ties between France and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), took place at the French Ministry of the Economy, Finance and Industrial and Digital Sovereignty in Paris from June 13-14, 2023.

Held under the patronage of French President Emmanuel Macron, Vision Golfe was staged by Business France, a French government agency that supports the international development of the country's economy. The event attracted a total number of 795 participants (of which half came from the GCC), and played host to a number of government dignitaries and business executives like H.E. Bruno Le Maire, Minister of the Economy, Finance, and Recovery of France, H.E. Bandar bin Ibrahim Alkhorayef, KSA Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources, GCC Secretary General Jasem Mohamed Albudaiwi, and others. 14 panel discussions and interactive workshops lined the two days of the conference, which also saw multiple business meetings carried out along its sidelines as well.

Faisal Abbas, Editor in Chief, Arab News, moderates a panel discission at Vision Golfe with Bandar Ibrahim Al Khorayef, Saudi Arabia Minister Of Industry And Mineral Resources, Magali Cesana, Head of Bilateral Affairs, General Direction of French Treasury, H.E. Jasem Mohamed Albudaiwi, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Anne Gueguen, Middle East and North Africa Director at the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, and Laurent Saint-Martin, CEO, Business France. Image credit: Vision Golfe

Looking back on the event, Laurent Saint-Martin, Director General of Business France, told Entrepreneur Middle East that the inaugural edition of Vision Golfe allowed for the development of both new and existing commercial partnerships between France and the countries of the GCC like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman. By acting as a comprehensive resource for ideas and information, he said that Vision Golfe was able to foster a platform that facilitated fruitful networking as well as commercial growth for the businesses involved in the event.

"The Gulf markets have witnessed a remarkable surge in popularity among numerous French SMEs and mid-size companies that are keen on bolstering their international expansion efforts," Saint-Martin said. "Within this context, the 'national visions' of the Gulf countries assume paramount significance, as they delineate medium and long-term objectives (2030 and 2035), providing a comprehensive framework. These visions pave the way for diversification and transitioning of economies, which are traditionally sustained by hydrocarbon revenues. Consequently, a plethora of genuine opportunities arise not only within traditional sectors, such as energy, mobility, healthcare, and sustainable development, but also in emerging domains such as tourism, leisure, sport, and culture."

Laurent Saint-Martin, CEO, Business France, at Vision Golfe. Image courtesy Vision Golfe.

Of course, French businesses have already made their presence felt in many industries in the GCC, including but not limited to agriculture, food production, energy transition, cultural heritage preservation, tourism, healthcare, urban mobility, and mining. When asked for his tips for French businesses that are only just breaking into the region, Saint-Martin urged them to seek out partnerships with local entities already operating in the market. "Collaborating with local partners holds immense value, as it opens doors to invaluable connections, and provides a profound understanding of the intricate nuances of the regional business culture," he explained. "By leveraging these partnerships, French companies can effectively bridge the gap that exists between their own operations and those of the GCC businesses, thereby facilitating seamless integration and mutual growth. Such alliances offer a unique advantage in navigating the complexities of the Gulf market, enhancing market entry and expansion prospects for French enterprises."

"Another key consideration is the legal environment," Saint-Martin continued. "The GCC region's legal landscape, especially sponsorship systems for foreign businesses and local ownership laws, can markedly differ from France. It is, therefore, recommended to seek expert legal advice to ensure total compliance with these regulations. Lastly, building business relationships in the GCC is a long-term commitment. Trust, which forms the bedrock of business associations in the region, is cultivated over time. Therefore, French businesses should be prepared for a longer business development cycle when seeking to establish a presence in the GCC."

Entrepreneur Middle East Editor in Chief Aby Sam Thomas moderates a panel discission at Vision Golfe with H.E. Noor Al Tamimi, founder, Bedashing Beauty Lounge, and Board Member for Abu Dhabi Businesswomen Council and Abu Dhabi Chamber Of Commerce, Geoffroy Bunetel, Chief Of Staff at Chalhoub Group, Meshaal Bin Omairh, CEO, Othaim Holding, Ziad Asmar, Executive Director, Darwish Holding, and Pascal Abchee, General Manager for French Department Stores (Galeries Lafayette Dubai). Image credit: Vision Golfe.

A similar thought underlined Saint-Martin's advice for entities in the GCC that wish to establish a presence in France. "Understanding the nuances of the French market is crucial," he said. "France, a traditionally preferred investment destination for Gulf nations, offers opportunities across a variety of sectors, from real estate and hospitality to infrastructure. Sovereign funds from the Gulf region have historically been very active in these sectors, frequently investing in minority stakes in large French companies, or investing in French funds. In the coming years, an intensified trend towards sectoral diversification will be evident in the investments from the Gulf. Reflecting the ambition to position themselves at the vanguard of future transformations in the global economy, Gulf investors are increasingly targeting opportunities presented by new technologies and future-oriented sectors. Importantly, these international investments are increasingly guided by industrial and strategic rationales, rather than being exclusively financially driven."

Here, Saint-Martin points out that France is one of the leading European nations for foreign direct investment (FDI) from the nations of the GCC. "A favorite destination for foreign investors in Europe, France offers GCC countries an attractive market to deploy their capital strategically," Saint-Martin noted. "French businesses can meet the needs of these countries working on their diversification strategy, thanks to unique expertise and technologies, capable of helping them fast-track the transformations of their economic and energy models."

Axel Baroux, French Trade and Invest Commissioner for United Arab Emirates and Middle East, Business France, at Vision Golfe. Image courtesy Vision Golfe.

Saint-Martin's thoughts on business ties between France and the GCC were echoed by Axel Baroux, the French Trade and Invest Commissioner for United Arab Emirates and Middle East who heads Business France Middle East, an entity that is known to actively work on boosting such relationships. "For French companies exploring opportunities in the GCC, Business France offers a range of services such as providing market insights, identifying potential partners, organizing business meetings, and offering assistance in legal, fiscal, and operational matters," Baroux says. "The agency works to reduce entry barriers, streamline processes, and position French businesses effectively in the GCC market. For GCC companies seeking to establish operations in France, Business France provides guidance in areas such as understanding French regulations, sourcing local talent, identifying investment opportunities, and navigating administrative procedures. By providing necessary support and valuable connections, it helps to facilitate the successful establishment and growth of GCC businesses in France."

Speaking about their particular ways of doing business, Baroux believes that there are several lessons that France and the nations of the GCC could learn from each other. "For French businesses, a key lesson from their GCC counterparts could be in the area of relationship-building and patience in business dealings," Baroux said. "Businesses in the GCC place a great deal of emphasis on personal relationships, trust, and respect. These relationships often take time to cultivate, and they form a critical part of successful business transactions. Patience is highly valued, and business processes can take longer due to an emphasis on consensus and careful deliberation. French businesses can learn from this approach to build long-term, sustainable relationships that extend beyond transactional interactions."

A scene from the networking sessions at Vision Golfe 2023. Image courtesy Vision Golfe.

"On the other hand, GCC businesses can learn from the French emphasis on innovation and strategic planning," Baroux continued. "French businesses are known for their focus on quality, creativity, and meticulous planning, particularly in industries such as technology, fashion, and manufacturing. They invest heavily in research and development, and this commitment to innovation and quality can be an important for GCC businesses. Lastly, French businesses are also deeply committed to sustainability and environmental responsibility. This is a domain where GCC businesses, traditionally reliant on oil and gas sectors, can gather valuable insights as they seek to diversify their economies, and invest more in sustainable practices and industries."

It is thus in order to facilitate more such knowledge-sharing encounters between businesspeople in France and their counterparts in the GCC that Vision Golfe will return next year, Baroux reveals. "In future editions of the conference, we aim to develop specific action plans tailored to each member state of the GCC," he says. "Recognizing the diverse opportunities that each state offers, our plan is to create a more personalized dialogue that caters to the unique business and cultural aspects of each state. We believe that this comprehensive approach will foster stronger ties and mutual growth. Moreover, we will continue to provide a platform for sharing insights, fostering dialogue, and developing strategic partnerships that align with the economic goals of both France and the GCC. We will also incorporate feedback from previous editions to enhance the experience for participants and to ensure the conference continues to provide valuable, actionable content. Ultimately, we are committed to making Vision Golfe a recurring platform for nurturing the important relationship between France and the GCC, focusing on sustainable, mutual growth, built on a solid foundation of cooperation and partnership."

Related: Thales Chairman And CEO Patrice Caine On His Company Acting As "Cyber Doorkeepers" For Its Clients Around The World

Gina Bagnulo

Entrepreneur Staff

Editorial Intern, Entrepreneur Middle East

Gina Bagnulo is an Editorial Intern at Entrepreneur Middle East.

She freelances for the Washington DC-based news media outlet Al-Monitor and has previously written for Gulf News. She is a student of Middle East Studies at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. 

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