February 24, 2018 / 1:33 PM / a year ago

France's Macron engages hecklers in farm-show rite of passage

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s Emmanuel Macron was booed by angry farmers on Saturday during his first visit as president to the country’s main agricultural fair, amid rising discontent over producer prices, European Union trade talks and Chinese land purchases.

Macron was greeted by jeering farmers and activists soon after his arrival at the southern Paris showground, before stopping to talk policy with a group of hecklers.

Elected last May, France’s centrist president has promised 5 billion euros ($6.2 billion) in agricultural investment as well as minimum farm prices to prevent producers selling at a loss.

But farmers and their FNSEA lobby group remain concerned about issues ranging from trade talks with the South American Mercosur bloc to a land-buying spree by Chinese investors.

In a country with a profound attachment to its pastoral roots, the Salon de l’Agriculture is a mandatory rite of passage for political leaders, who tend either to relish the event - as former president Jacques Chirac visibly did - or endure it.

Nicolas Sarkozy, during his presidential farm show debut a decade ago, let rip with an expletive-laden insult against a man in the crowd who had declined to shake his hand. His words were caught on video and haunted him for the rest of his term.

Macron responded differently to provocation on Saturday, scrapping his itinerary to engage several of his hecklers in a lengthy and detailed exchange on trade policy, social charges and food standards in front of TV cameras.

The budget for the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy should not be cut by more than Britain’s contribution as it exits the 28-member bloc, he also said.

Thibault Guybert, a cereal farmer from the Paris region who had joined in the booing, said the president would be judged on his actions, and bigger protests should not be ruled out.

Slideshow (6 Images)

“We wanted to jostle President Macron a bit to make our displeasure known and let him know we’re not just going to leave it there,” Guybert said on BFM TV.

“We’ll have to be very clear with him and find out whether he wants to keep French agriculture or not.”

($1 = 0.8135 euros)

Reporting by Laurence Frost; Additional reporting by Gus Trompiz and Simon Carraud; Editing by David Holmes

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