French arms export orders up 43% in 2013: ministry

A picture taken on June 11, 2012 shows a visitor looking at a French Panhard CRAB (Combat Reconnaissance Armoured Buggy) at the Eurosatory 2012 defence and security exhibition in Villepinte near Paris (AFP Photo/Eric Piermont) (AFP/File)

Paris (AFP) - Export orders for French weapons rose by 43 percent last year, according to a new report by the defence minister, who insisted this "exceptional" result showed France was a reliable partner for arms sales.

"In 2013, the orders for arms exports rose 43 percent to 6.87 billion euros ($8.84 billion)," said the defence ministry.

"This is a 30-percent increase over the average between 2002 and 2012," added the report, noting that "more than 40,000 jobs are generated by weapons exports".

In total, the French defence industry employs 165,000 people directly or indirectly, with a turnover of 17 billion euros.

These job are "vitally important" in a country that is "hit by unemployment and threatened with de-industrialisation," Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Tuesday.

The report came amid fears that France's reputation as a reliable weapons exporter could be damaged by its decision to freeze the delivery of a Mistral-class warship to Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

Paris agreed in 2011 to build and sell the two advanced helicopter assault ships to Russia for a total of 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion), with the first scheduled for delivery in October or November and the second in 2015.

However, under fierce criticism from allies including Britain and the United States, France last week suspended the delivery of the first of the warships "until November".

Le Drian told Le Figaro daily that "France is a partner that is recognised as being reliable," the proof being the rise in arms exports seen last year.