French senators reject EU-Canada trade deal amid farmer unrest

Left- and right-wing opposition parties team up to deliver rebuke to Emmanuel Macron.

France’s political opposition and farmer lobbies have opposed CETA for years. | Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Images

PARIS — The French Senate on Thursday voted against ratifying the EU-Canada trade deal (CETA) as farmers continue their protests.

The vote had been put on the agenda by communist senators in a bid to kill the trade pact, something they have been trying to do for years. Right-wing senators from Les Républicains also voted against the agreement.

In a rebuke to President Emmanuel Macron, an overwhelming majority rejected CETA, with 243 senators voting to kill the deal and only 26 to save it after a day-long parliamentary debate.

“It is not thanks to CETA that French wine and cheese is bought in Canada, it is France’s gastronomic reputation that makes us export our wines and cheeses all over the world,” Cécile Cukierman, the French communist senator behind the vote initiative, told POLITICO ahead of the ballot.

The deal has been provisionally in force since 2017, even though 10 EU countries haven’t yet ratified it. Last month the European Commission again urged EU countries to give it the green light.

France’s political opposition and farmer lobbies have opposed CETA for years, presenting it as a threat to French farmers. French exports to Canada, however, increased by 33 percent between 2017 and 2023, including wine (+24 percent) and cheese (+60 percent), according to data from the French foreign ministry.

“Today is a very bad day for our economy, for our business, for our exporters, for our farmers,” the country’s trade minister, Franck Riester, told senators after the vote.

The immediate consequence is that France’s lower chamber, the National Assembly, will again have its say on the deal. The Assembly approved it back in 2019, but things have since changed with Macron’s party having lost seats to opponents who oppose free trade, making the outcome of a second ballot uncertain.

The trade part of the deal will remain in force despite the vote as it falls within the exclusive competence of the European Commission. Senators meanwhile backed the chapter on facilitating investments between the EU and Canada, which will only take effect after it is ratified by parliaments in each EU country.

Thursday’s vote nonetheless puts the government in a difficult spot.

Paris has long questioned Brussels’ push to conclude more trade agreements, with Macron fiercely opposing a mooted trade deal between the EU and the South American Mercosur bloc. At the same time, however, his government has defended the CETA agreement and other trade deals it considers both beneficial to the French economy and environmentally acceptable, such as the pact with New Zealand.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and Riester will fly to Ottawa next month, possibly aiming to reassure Canada after the vote.

Source: Politico