Macron vows to defend French farmers, fishermen in uncertain year

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday promised to safeguard European farm subsidies, secure compensation for wine producers hit by U.S. tariffs and defend fishermen in talks with Britain, as France’s farming world faces an uncertain year.

French President Emmanuel Macron visits the 57th International Agriculture Fair (Salon de l'Agriculture) at the Porte de Versailles exhibition center in Paris, France, February 22, 2020. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/Pool

Opening the annual Paris farm show, Macron said France would continue to oppose cuts to agricultural subsidies, a day after discussions broke down on a new European Union budget without Britain.

Like his predecessors, Macron vowed to maintain a large budget for the bloc’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), of which France is the main beneficiary.

“On the CAP we defend an ambitious budget. CAP cannot be the adjustment variable of Brexit. We need to support our farmers,” Macron told farmers.

“We did not yield to those who wanted to reduce the (CAP) budget,” he added.

Meeting wine industry representatives, the president pledged to get compensation for U.S. tariffs in place by the spring, Jerome Despey, a wine grower and secretary general of France’s main farmer union, the FNSEA, said afterwards.

Macron has previously backed tariff relief for wine producers and said he has raised the issue with the European Commission.

The sector fears it could lose 300-400 million euros in annual sales in its main export market if the 25% tariff imposed by Washington in October remains in place, Despey said.

French wine is among EU products subject to the U.S. tariffs as part of an aircraft subsidy dispute. French wine exporters estimate the duties led to a 40 million euro drop in sales to the United States in the last quarter.

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Macron also voiced support for the fishing sector, which risks losing current access to British waters as the EU negotiates a new relationship with Britain.

“Boris Johnson has a card in his hand and it is fishing,” he told representatives of the French fishing industry, warning it was unclear if the EU and Britain could reach an overall trade agreement before a transition period expires at the end of the year.

He reiterated that he would seek compensation for French fishermen for any losses they suffered.

Macron spent over 12 hours at the Paris farm show, a major event for politicians in the EU’s biggest agricultural economy.

During the customary presidential visit to the week-long event, which attracts 600,000 visitors, he tasted French specialties like Charolais beef and Cotes de Provence rose wine, and served draft beer at the French brewers’ stand.

He also faced stern questioning from farmers, with whom

he has had an uneasy relationship, particularly over pesticide policy.

Macron told farmers that common weedkiller glyphosate would not be scrapped where there were no alternatives, while safety rules on pesticide spraying would be adopted progressively.

There were glimpses of wider tensions in France, with a heated exchange with a woman about pension reform and police violence in street protests.

Eric Drouet, a leading figure in the so-called Yellow Vest protest movement that rocked Macron’s government a year ago, was expelled from the show when he tried to approach the president.

Reporting by Gus Trompiz, Dominique Vidalon and Michaela Cabrera; Editing by Ros Russell, Giles Elgood and Sandra Maler