PARIS (Reuters) – European Union agriculture is threatened by divisions inside the EU and competition from rival trading blocs, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday, calling for a large budget to defend EU goals on food quality and environmental protection.

French President Emmanuel Macron touches a cow as he visits the International Agriculture Fair (Salon de l’Agriculture) at the Porte de Versailles exhibition center in Paris, France, February 23, 2019. Julien De Rosa/Pool via Reuters

Macron’s speech at Paris’ annual farm show – an unmissable event for French politicians – was warmly received, in stark contrast to a year ago when was booed by farmers angry at low prices for producers.

France is the EU’s biggest agricultural producer and the main beneficiary of its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which is due to be renegotiated this year just as Britain, a net budget contributor, is set to quit the bloc.

The EU should maintain an ambitious farming budget with “not one euro less” than at present, after factoring in the impact of Brexit, Macron said.

His supportive words ensured some rare positive publicity for the 41-year-old whose popularity hit record lows during the height of the “yellow vest” protests over falling living standards at the end of last year.

Macron looked at ease strolling among the animals and crowds, taking selfies and chatting with farmers. He listened patiently to a pensioner struggling to make ends meet before explaining he could claim extra benefits and giving the visibly moved retiree a hug.

“European agriculture has always been a given, it is today under threat,” Macron said in his speech, citing the EU’s reliance on imported soybean protein for livestock feed and Russia’s rise as a massive cereal exporter.

“No farmer or consumer wants to be subjected to the diktat of non-European countries,” he added.

Agriculture is a flashpoint in trade negotiations, notably in areas such as food safety standards and genetic modification, and Macron reaffirmed France’s “red line” that farm products be kept out of trade talks with the United States.

The European Commission also wants to leave agriculture out of EU-U.S. discussions, at odds with Washington, which is threatening punitive tariffs on European cars.

France wants the EU to push for changes to World Trade Organisation farm rules, and modify food standards under the United Nations’ Codex Alimentarius, Macron said.

He urged Europe to differentiate itself as a high-quality food producer, calling on France’s large wheat sector to offer a wider range of grades for export.

With Britain’s departure from the EU, the European Commission has proposed a 5 percent cut in the agriculture budget for 2021-2027 to 365 billion euros ($414 billion). ($1 = 0.8818 euros)

Editing by Leigh Thomas and Robin Pomeroy


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