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France overtakes China as third biggest arms exporter, report shows

It increased its sales by 59% in the past 10 years, more than any other country

A Dassault Rafale fighter jet, one of France’s main exports in the arms industry Pic: VanderWolf Images / Shutterstock

France “substantially” increased its exports of arms in the 2017-2021 period and is now the third biggest exporter of weaponry in the world, a report published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) shows. 

In this four-year period, arms exports by France made up 11% of total global arms exports, up from 6% in the previous four-year period (2012-2016), meaning it overtakes China as the third biggest exporter. 

Overall, France has increased its arms exports by 59% in the past 10 years, the most of any country in this time period. 

It remains behind the US and Russia as the biggest exporters, who in the 2017-2021 period supplied 39% and 19% of the global arms exports respectively. 

China is now the fourth biggest exporter of arms, and Germany is fifth.  

France’s high exports are mainly due to sales of Dassault Rafale fighter jets, which it has mainly supplied to Egypt, Qatar and India. These three countries made up 56% of France’s total arms exports between 2017 and 2021. 

The report, published on March 14, does not include France’s more recent deals to sell its Rafale jets to the United Arab Emirates, confirmed in December 2021, and Indonesia, confirmed in February this year. 

A recent article by the investigative news site Disclose revealed that France continued to issue export licences to Russia after the EU imposed an arms embargo on the country in 2014. 

France’s armed forces ministry stated after that it “allowed the termination of certain contracts concluded before 2014”, Euractiv reported. This was permitted under the terms of the embargo. 

In terms of imports, France is not one of Europe’s major buyers. 

The continent’s major importers are the UK, Norway and the Netherlands. 

The report states however:

“Other European states are also expected to increase their arms imports significantly over the coming decade, having recently placed large orders for major arms, in particular combat aircraft from the US. 

“Despite armed conflict in eastern Ukraine throughout 2017–21, the country’s imports of major arms in the period were very limited.”

Overall, there was a drop of 4.6% in international transfers of arms in the four-year period of 2017-2021 compared to the previous four-year period. 

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