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France's Senate rejects bill to ratify EU-Canada trade deal because of farmers' concerns

Farmers gather Tuesday, March 12, 2024 outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France. For several months, farmers throughout Europe have been mobilizing to address local, national, and European concerns (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

PARIS (AP) — France's Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday to reject legislation to ratify a 2017 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.

Thursday's 211-44 vote in the Senate does not necessarily mean that France ultimately will reject ratification.

The vote sends the bill back to the powerful National Assembly, which had approved it in 2019 and can still move to override the Senate rejection and give final approval to the measure.

But Macron's centrist alliance, which has advocated for the adoption of the CETA agreement, lost its majority at the lower house in 2022, making the outcome of a new vote uncertain.

If the Assembly should reject the legislation during its second vote, that would signal France’s failure to ratify and could unravel the EU trade deal.

In the Senate, opposition from both the conservative majority and leftist legislators centered on concerns about shielding local farmers from what they consider unfair competition and protecting France's food sovereignty. The Assembly has not yet set a date to consider the legislation.

The ratification process across the European Union has been slow, with France and nine other EU countries, including Italy and Belgium, not yet giving their approval.

There have been significant increases in trade volume between the EU and Canada since the trade deal provisionally went into effect. From 2017 to 2023, trade between the two jumped by 51%, with French exports to Canada rising by 33%.

Despite these economic gains, CETA has faced criticism, including over its impact on European farmers and the environment. Critics argue it could undermine local agriculture and increase greenhouse gas emissions due to more transport of goods.

CETA aims to eventually eliminate nearly 99% of tariffs. It includes special recognition for certain European products like Agen prunes and Savoie reblochon.

The Senate’s rejection pressures the National Assembly, which only narrowly passed CETA in 2019. If France or any other EU member state definitively rejects the treaty, it could unravel, affecting the parts of the agreement already in operation.

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.

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AP Writer Sylvie Corbet contributed to the story