RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Boeing and other American arms manufacturers face stiff competition from European manufacturers in the international weapons market. The competition from France could get tougher. France's President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to boost his country's weapons sales overseas. He's taking steps to make French companies more competitive.
Reporter Anita Elash has the story.
Mr. FRANCOIS PREION (Arms Merchant): (French spoken)
ANITA ELASH: Francois Preion(ph) is one of 1,200 merchants here at the Eurosatory International Arms Fair just outside Paris. He's demonstrating an AK-2, one of the sniper rifles that his company, PGM Precision, makes. Last year, PGM, a French company, sold $1.6 million worth of guns to armies in France, Chile, Israel and elsewhere. Preion hopes to sell a lot more than that this year thanks to a promise from the French government to cut red tape.
Mr. PREION: The worst thing is that it's very long, okay, to get the agreement to sell the weapons. And when you compare it with other countries, they can get the export license, for example, in two weeks. Okay? And it's very difficult to fight with those companies.
ELASH: The French system to approve overseas weapons sales has always been one of the most complicated in the world. One of the key sticking points: manufacturers must ask the French government's permission just to start negotiations to sell weapons to another country, even if that country is a NATO ally. This process is meant to prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands, but it takes months to complete.
Mark Bromley, a research associate with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, says it's put France at a business disadvantage since the end of the Cold War.
Mr. MARK BROMLEY (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute): What you used to see during the Cold War was a more kind of delineated market where certain exporters had exclusive rights almost to sell to particular destinations. That's no longer the case, really. And you see the big exporters, such as France, Russia, and the United States trying to sell to all parts of the world. And that's creating a very competitive market.
ELASH: The biggest blow came at the end of last year, when the United States beat out France for a contract to sell new fighter jets to France's former colony, Morocco. France lost that one because of confusion among bureaucrats in various government departments. Since then, President Nicolas Sarkozy has set up a presidential war room to coordinate key ministries involved in major weapons sales. And Sarkozy has promised to give companies faster approvals to help them compete.
Eric Daniels' company, Proengin, is already benefiting from some of the changes.
Mr. ERIC DANIELS (Proengin): This is a product called AP4C.
ELASH: Daniels sells chemical detectors to armies, police forces and security services. It's a booming business, and now there's a lot less paperwork. The French government has allowed him to sell to any country that belongs to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemicals without asking for permission. He says that's put him on an even playing field with his competitors.
Mr. DANIELS: As soon as I get your purchase order I can ship tomorrow. So I have less (unintelligible) than before.
ELASH: The French government says it hopes to increase its worldwide sales of military equipment this year by 10 percent, or $780 million, most of it to countries it already sells to.
For NPR News, I'm Anita Elash in Paris.
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