Ardern makes a French con­nec­tion

The Hutt News - - FRONT PAGE -

At times, France has been a night­mare prospect for this coun­try, from the Rainbow War­rior to var­i­ous Rugby World Cup en­coun­ters. Yet right now, France looks like be­com­ing a key ally in New Zealand fur­ther­ing its wished-for free trade agree­ment with the Euro­pean Union, a deal which the govern­ment has iden­ti­fied as its main trade pri­or­ity this year.

To that end, PMJacinda Ardern’s meet­ing with French Pres­i­dent Emmanuel Macron was def­i­nitely the most sig­nif­i­cant stop on her re­cent, tri­umphant tour of Europe.

On one level, the chem­istry between the two lead­ers shouldn’t be all that sur­pris­ing. Ardern and Macron have a lot in com­mon, start­ing with cli­mate change pol­icy. In De­cem­ber, France im­posed a ban on all fu­ture oil and gas ex­plo­ration, with a to­tal phase-out of ex­ist­ing fos­sil fuel con­tracts by 2040. New Zealand has an­nounced a sim­i­lar phase-out, but one that’s more con­ser­va­tively timed, by 2050. Ba­si­cally, any lo­cal in­dus­try that’s de­pen­dent on fos­sil fuels has been given over 30 years no­tice to pre­pare for the tran­si­tion.

Even so, one might have ex­pected con­sid­er­ably more fric­tion with the leader of France – given that a trade deal with the Euro­pean Union would prob­a­bly send a surge of farm ex­ports from New Zealand onto Euro­pean mar­kets. In the past, agri­cul­ture has been the main stum­bling block stop­ping this coun­try from winning bet­ter mar­ket ac­cess to Europe. From Charles de Gaulle to Jac­ques Chirac, France has been the most staunch de­fender of the Com­mon Agri­cul­ture Pol­icy (CAP) that un­der­writes farmer in­comes across the con­ti­nent.

Over the past six months though, Macron has shown him­self to be no­tice­ably less en­gaged with the CAP than his pre­de­ces­sors. In a fiery speech at the Sor­bonne last Septem­ber, Macron said it was high time to re­view ‘‘with­out taboos’’ whether the CAP was still fit for pur­pose, adding that he was not con­vinced it was. Agri­cul­ture is a shrink­ing part of France’s econ­omy, and there are ques­tion marks over the CAP’s con­tin­ued af­ford­abil­ity, once Brexit has taken place.

At heart, Macron is a tech­no­crat who sees France’s fu­ture as be­ing in added-value pro­cess­ing, arms sales, and high­tech com­merce. The pol­i­tics in­volved are dif­fi­cult, how­ever. Macron and his fel­low tech­nocrats are al­ready seen as be­ing too much in bed with the global fi­nan­cial elites, and he can­not af­ford to be seen to be sim­ply jet­ti­son­ing the farm­ing sec­tor – given that the doughty small farm­ers in the coun­try’s ru­ral and pro­vin­cial towns still oc­cupy a revered place within France’s sense of na­tional iden­tity. A re­cent rash of sui­cides among French farm­ers has been a tes­ta­ment to the an­guish al­ready be­ing felt.

Clearly, Macron wants to re­form French agri­cul­ture – and it could be po­lit­i­cally use­ful for him to be able to blame some of the ne­ces­sity for tran­si­tion upon EU-wide trade ini­tia­tives, such as an FTA with New Zealand. Over­all then, as we try to pro­mote an FTA with the Euro­pean Union, it could well be that France – in­stead of be­ing an au­to­matic ob­sta­cle – could be our sym­pa­thetic back­room part­ner.

Ul­ti­mately, Ardern’s rap­port with Macron on cli­mate change pol­icy (and on agri­cul­ture’s role within it) can only help our ef­forts to win greater ac­cess to Euro­pean mar­kets.

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