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Interview Maelle

Morvan – Director, French Business Group, United Arab Emirates

The director of the French Business Group in Abu Dhabi, Maelle Morvan, explains in detail the technologies French companies are bringing to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Total’s successful concession in the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and why it is the right time to invest in the UAE.

Provide our readers with an overview of the organization and where it stands today with regards to its involvement in Oil & Gas.

The French Business Group was started in 1974 and over the past 41 years we have raised our profile and now boast 250 members of whom 30 percent are dedicated to the Oil & Gas sector. Our members in Oil & Gas cover the entire value chain, such as equipment and services, engineers, etc. There are a tremendous amount of French companies involved in the industry and our job is to ensure that our companies possess access to opportunities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  Moreover, we have various central committees dedicated to providing a platform for various industry players to voice their opinions and share their experiences, as well as business opportunities. Our five committees are comprised of professionals who are willing to share technical information and business skills, through monthly round tables discussions, conferences or visits focusing on specific industry sector of issues. These working groups are Oil & Gas, Construction, Sustainable Development and Renewable Energies, Health and Young Entrepreneurs. All in all, these committees provide a healthy platform for players within the energy industry to learn about ways to invest and become involved in Abu Dhabi’s thriving energy industry.

What are your main priorities regarding the development of the French Business Group over the last year?

Over the last year it has been my personal mission to revamp the organization as a whole and create awareness by shedding light on the importance of French business in the UAE, especially in the energy sector because of the country’s large multinational Oil & Gas players, such as Technip and Total. For example, we have a French litigation team coming over from Marseilles, France in the near future to scope out the local market. In this regard, the chamber seeks to create networking opportunities and serve as a platform for companies looking to the UAE for investment opportunities.     

What opportunities exist for Oil & Gas companies looking to the UAE in light of current market conditions? 

Companies entering the Emirati market today tend to be more focused on specialized products and services because Abu Dhabi’s Oil & Gas fields demand highly specialized companies to bring in Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) techniques. Moreover, many specialized engineers are working in downstream, which is a common trend in the entire Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). For example, many refineries in Europe are shutting down and opening them up in the Gulf because the projects have larger scales. This is a regional trend and most recently it was announced that Saudi Arabia would lower the amount of oil it ships to refineries in India and instead it would open an estimated $20 billion refinery in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia. There are tremendous opportunities for French companies and other global players alike to enter the downstream market in the Gulf region and invest. I believe that in the next 10 years we will see tremendous growth in the downstream sector in the Middle East, as well as places like Kazakhstan.

I want to stress the important role that French Oil & Gas companies have in the United Arab Emirates. What I see is that many Emirati companies show a strong interest in working with French companies because of the experience in service and efficiency that we exemplify. Most recently, A 75 year agreement in which Total was a shareholder with BP Plc, Exxon Mobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Partex Oil & Gas in the Abu Dhabi onshore fields expired in January 2014 and as of 2015 Total won a bid with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) for a 10 percent stake in an onshore oil project. This monumental win for Total has helped other French Oil & Gas companies partake in projects with ADNOC and its subsidiaries by solidifying the tie between French and Emirati energy companies.        

What special qualities make French energy companies well suited for the local market?

French companies possess the knowhow and international experience required in projects ranging from onshore to offshore and across the entire value chain. ADNOC and its subsidiaries are exceptional organizations, but French companies possess the technology required to work in such conditions – French companies complement Emirati companies and work in line with their ambitions, which is the driving force behind our local success. Moreover, Emiratis are very eager to learn about new technologies because they understand that their future depends on educating and improving their practices. Additionally, many French companies such as Total want to ensure that they give back to the local people by creating educational centers, like the Total Academy, which helps develop local talent in Oil & Gas.

Which areas of Oil & Gas are French companies collaborating with Emirati organizations on the most?

The UAE has a couple areas in which they are seeking the most assistance nwith regards to energy. First, they have many oil wells that are at the end of their life cycle and the main issue is how to bring the right technology and wherewithal to ensure that wells have a longer life cycle. Second, there is a need to produce clean and useable gas in order to sustain itself and the nation’s increasing population. ADNOC leads Abu Dhabi’s natural gas sector through its subsidiaries, with the exploration and production of natural gas resources carried out by ADCO and ADMA-OPCO, as in the case of oil. The Abu Dhabi Gas Industries Limited Company (GASCO), created as a joint venture between ADNOC, Shell, Total, and Partex, oversees processing Abu Dhabi’s onshore natural gas, as well as the associated gas recovered from onshore oil operations. French companies, like Total, Cegelec, Technip, Schneider Electric are working in the entire value chain with ADNOC and its subsidiaries to ensure the nation’s Oil & Gas needs are met to the highest standard.     

Regional political instability has created a great deal of stress for many investors in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region, yet the UAE is a beacon of light amongst its neighbors because of fairer investment opportunities and more transparent business practices. What piece of advice would you offer to potential investors looking to the UAE, and specifically, Abu Dhabi, for investment opportunities?

The MENA region has its fair share of challenges, but it is important to point out that French and other international companies should view the UAE as an opportunity because it possess fair business practices and a professional environment in which Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is welcomed. Moreover, it is a hub for the entire GCC, Central Asia and Africa because many organizations involved in the energy sector use Abu Dhabi as their regional base. For many companies, working in the UAE is a sign of stability because it is a mature market with a global reach. If you have a good product and bring new technology to the local market I believe you can have a successful business in the UAE! 

How would you like to see French investment develop in five years’ time?

The bread and butter of the UAE is the Oil & Gas industry and French companies can continue to play an increasing role in the UAE’s development of energy. There still exists a misperception on the part of French nationals that do not understand the opportunities companies possess in the local market due to their specialized techniques as niche players. Over the next few years, I want to continue to encourage French companies, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME) to think outside the box and enter the Emirati market with innovative technologies. 

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