France soothes nerves over Dassault jets after Brazil setback

Thu Dec 19, 2013 3:09pm EST
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By John Irish and Cyril Altmeyer

PARIS (Reuters) - France's defense minister played down another sales failure for Dassault's Rafale fighter jet in Brazil, saying he was confident there would soon be better news from tenders in India and Gulf Arab countries.

Dassault Aviation (AVMD.PA: Quote) has still not found a foreign buyer for its multi-role jet, the Rafale, billed to be one of the most effective and sophisticated fighter jets in the world, but also one of the most expensive.

Shares in the company fell around 2 percent on Thursday after Brazil's decision to award a $4.5 billion contract for 36 jets to Saab <AB SAABb.ST>, a surprise coup for Sweden, and a second blow this year after missing out in Switzerland.

"This isn't a failure. It's a disappointment on a target that wasn't a priority," Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Europe 1 radio. "Brazil was not the priority target for the Rafale. We have more important targets in India and the Gulf (Arab states)."

France had come close to sealing a deal with Brazil in 2011, with Dassault promising to transfer technology for the new jet in a bid to get an edge over the competition, but the Brazilian government delayed its decision due to the economic crisis.

"I'd been expecting this ... for several months," French President Francois Hollande said in Brussels where he travelled for meetings devoted largely to the European defense community.

"What counts is that the Rafale is not bought only by the French army," he added. "In order for it to be cheaper, it must sell more, so it's a process ... I'm doing the main thing, which is to defend this plane."

Hollande had travelled to the Latin American oil producer on December 12 to push the deal.   Continued...

France's Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian wipes his face as he attends a news conference in Paris October 3, 2013. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes