French President Macron regrets the Senate's vote to reject the EU-Canada trade deal

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French President Emmanuel Macron addresses a media conference at the conclusion of an EU Summit in Brussels, Friday, March 22, 2024. European Union leaders on Friday discussed plans to boost investment and the economy. (AP Photo/Omar Havana)

BRUSSELS – French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday he “regrets” the Senate’s vote to reject legislation to ratify a trade deal between the European Union and Canada that has been criticized by farmers as bringing unfair competition from abroad.

The EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, provisionally went into effect in September 2017 after all EU governments agreed to it, but its full implementation requires approval by each national parliament.

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Thursday’s vote in the French Senate does not necessarily mean that the country ultimately will reject ratification.

The text is to be sent back to France's lower house of parliament for further discussion, Macron said in a news conference at an EU summit in Brussels. He did not say whether he would like the vote at the National Assembly to be held before or after June’s European elections.

“It’s a very good agreement” that benefits to the French farming industry, Macron argued.

“Is it good or bad for our agriculture? The assessment is extremely clear. It’s very good for milk, it’s very good for cheese, it’s very good for wine.”

French senators’ vote comes after farmers across France and Europe demonstrated on their tractors earlier this year in protests over low earnings, heavy regulation and what they call unfair competition from abroad, often criticizing free-trade agreements, including the CETA.

While Macron's centrist alliance advocated for the CETA, conservative and leftist senators joined their votes to reject the ratification bill.

Major farmers' unions and food producer organizations in France welcomed the Senate's move. They say the agreement would in the long term hurt the country's food industry.

Arnaud Gaillot, president of the Young Farmers union, pointed to the “lack of guarantees” provided by the CETA regarding Canada’s alignment on EU standards that “would have threatened our livestock sector.”

The Confederation Paysanne, a farmers' union, said in a statement that the European market of beef meat would be “deeply impacted” if the agreement was to become definitive.

The French Interprofessional Livestock and Meat Association Interbev called the Senate’s vote “a first victory” and a “strong signal sent towards the protection of the French and European standards, which regarding health, environment and animal welfare are the strictest in the world.”

From 2017 to 2023, French exports to Canada rose by 33%, all sectors together, including the food industry.

French Minister for Foreign Trade Franck Riester said cheese exports had jumped by 60% and wine exports by 24% over the past six years.

The French Federation of Exporters of Wine and Spirits deplored the Senate’s decision. “It’s a setback for France and a blow to the wine and spirits sector,” the group said in a statement.

“Those who rejected this agreement will have to explain tomorrow to French wine and spirits producers why they risk losing the markets they have been developing since 2017 in Canada,” saids the president of the federation, Gabriel Picard.

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