With the election of Emmanuel Macron, “France will maintain a policy broadly favourable to international trade and will participate in a monetary policy geared toward stability.” So says Lawrence Cannon, Canada’s ambassador to France since 2012.
The ambassador, who spoke recently to members of the Canadian International Council’s National Capital Branch, said CETA is his top file and a priority for Canada and France.
“When it comes into effect in a few weeks, this agreement will do away with custom duties on almost all goods from France,” he said. “It’s clear that France, the 6th largest economy, and Canada’s 7th largest trading partner, will be able to play an even bigger role in the world of Canadian business.”
Cannon noted that Macron was the only candidate who supported the Canada-EU trade agreement during the election campaign.
“His support for CETA is consistent with his pro-European and liberal political vision,” Cannon said. “His election means the economic foundations of the Canada-France relationship will not be challenged and will no doubt be strengthened. France will remain anchored in Europe and its single market.”
Finally, he said, France will continue to co-operate internationally to ensure a better distribution of the gains from globalization.
Talking about French domestic politics, Cannon noted that while former president Francois Hollande left an historically unpopular president, he did leave the country in better shape.
“Immigration remains a sensitive issue, but 80 per cent of the French [people] still support the free movement of European citizens to live and work throughout the EU,” Cannon said and, referring to the relative popularity of Marine Le Pen and her anti-immigration policies, he added: “It’s as if they weren’t happy with the marriage, but weren’t yet ready for divorce.”
He drew attention to the fact that 11 million French citizens voted for Le Pen “and her protectionist agenda,” and, given that, Macron first needs to unify and reconcile the two Frances — the one that’s worried and looking for protection, and the other, which is more optimistic and sure of its role in Europe and the world.
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The next step for the new government, Cannon said, will be the legislative elections of June 11 and 18, the results of which will determine who forms the majority in the National Assembly.
For Canada, Cannon said there is a reason to be optimistic as many of Macron’s ministers not only know Canada, but have a positive view of it.
He said a “whole team of trade commissioners” at the Canadian embassy is working to attract French investors to Canada.
“Those efforts are all the more important given the challenge of Canadian lumber with our southern neighbour,” he said. “With CETA coming, we’re seeing a growing interest in trade between both countries.”
While Cannon didn’t want to comment on the upcoming British election, he did say the traditional U.K., France, and Germany paradigm has now changed.
“When [former French prime minister] Manuel Valls came to Ottawa, he evoked the possibility of France becoming the gateway to Europe,” Cannon said. “I thought that was an interesting concept. I think France will do everything in its power to encourage businesses to come into Europe following the free-trade agreement.”
He also said Canada must continue working with the UK.
“Sixty-five per cent of our economy depends on trade and on export,” he said. “Whatever way we look at it, we have to find and seek every opportunity we can get. I’m not convinced that, at the outset, we’re in a bad position. I think we’re in a very good position. What is taking place in world politics is an opportunity for us to increase our trade. That may be wishful thinking on my part, but I do think the agenda is there and we’ll make that happen.”
On Brexit, he quoted European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who said it took eight years to ratify CETA, so don’t expect Brexit to happen in three months.
“[All EU members are] saying quite clearly that Britain can’t get a better deal than the one that’s on the table now, so if someone is thinking that will take place, they’ll be sorely disappointed,” he said.