A branch of the Louvre museum is to be built in Abu Dhabi, according to an agreement signed Tuesday between the governments of France and the United Arab Emirates.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi project, said to be worth several hundred million dollars, involves a 30-year accord between the two countries that will allow the new museum to display works from the Louvre, the Georges Pompidou Centre, the Musée d'Orsay and the Versailles palace.

French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres and the head of Abu Dhabi's tourism authority, Sheik Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, signed the agreement, which provides for the construction of a 24,000-square-metre museum that will open in 2012.

"This is a major achievement in Abu Dhabi's vision to become a world-class destination bridging global cultures," Emirates president Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan said in a statement.

French President Jacques Chirac sent a message, read out by de Vabres, saying that the Emirates had "sealed a partnership with the world's most visited and well-known museum."

Designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will be a white discus-shaped building with irregular-shaped windows in the roof.

The agreement is another cultural coup for Abu Dhabi, following the announcement that the city will build a branch of Guggenheim museum.

A once staid oil town, Abu Dhabi lives in the shadow of its flashier neighbour, Dubai. But in the past two years Abu Dhabi has taken bold moves to challenge Dubai's supremacy as the Gulf's cultural hub.