Dassault Aviation SA (AM) is poised to win a contract from Qatar for 72 Rafale jets, a French government official said, indicating the jet may have its first export contract before India signs a commitment for 126 units.

A contract would probably come in two batches of 36 aircraft, the official said. The topic will be discussed when Qatar ruler Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani visits France next week, as negotiations continue. The Qatari Ministry of Defense and Dassault Aviation had no comment.

Sales abroad are critical to European and U.S. defense contractors as they look overseas to offset declining domestic spending and keep production alive. France’s only maker of fighter planes has so far failed to clinch any export order for the Rafale, even as its prior fighter saw three quarters of sales from export orders. India is in exclusive talks with Dassault, though it has yet to seal a deal. […]