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French Senate votes against ratification of EU-Canada free trade deal CETA

By Inti Landauro

PARIS (Reuters) -A large majority of French senators on Thursday voted against the ratification of a free trade deal between the European Union and Canada, dubbed CETA, in a closely watched ballot after farmers slammed liberal trade policies in weeks of protests.

A majority of 211 senators opposed the ratification of the free-trade deal while 44 voted in favour.

Free-trade deals, a symbol of the EU's will to open up markets and boost competition, have become the target of fierce criticism across the political spectrum since Europe-wide farmer protests highlighted what they called unfair competition from abroad.

French farmers, who have pressured the government to obtain more aid, were spearheading the fight against international free-trade deals and CETA in particular, claiming it favours Canadian rivals whose environmental standards are looser.

Interbev, the lobby of French cattle farmers and meat processors, welcomed the vote.

"Interbev now counts on the National Assembly to definitely reject this harmful deal for the industry of cattle and meat and the consumers," it said in a statement sent after the vote.

Leftist farmer union Confederation Paysanne also welcomed the vote, saying the agreement "accentuates the race for volumes, with no tangible return to producers".

The rejection by the Senate means the bill needs to go back to France's lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, where lawmakers had narrowly backed CETA in a 2019 vote.

Since then, President Emmanuel Macron - an advocate of free trade policies - has lost his absolute majority in the chamber.

The trade deal, sealed in 2014, ratified in 2017 by the European Parliament and already partly in force, aimed at suppressing tariffs on 98% of goods between the EU and Canada.

French Trade Minister Franck Riester said farmers like wine and cheese producers - France's top export productions - would benefit from the deal.

"You are sending a very bad signal to our exporters, to our farmers and to Canada," he said.

(Reporting by Inti Landauro, additional reporting by Sybille de la Hamaide, editing by Tassilo Hummel, William Maclean)