With lamb and cheese, Macron tried to charm China's Xi in the Pyrenees

By Elizabeth Pineau, Bart Biesemans and Ingrid Melander

TARBES, France (Reuters) -Chinese President Xi Jinping left France on Tuesday after a two-day trip during which he offered no major concessions on trade or foreign policy, even as President Emmanuel Macron pressed him on market access and Ukraine.

Macron and his wife Brigitte waved goodbye to Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan at the airport in France's southwestern Pyrenees region, after taking them to lunch in the mountains following a day of talks and state pomp in Paris on Monday.

A source close to the French presidency said the trip allowed for "friendly and very frank talks" that allowed Macron to pass on messages on Ukraine and would allow for more open talks in the future.

Macron has a history of trying to establish personal relationships outside of protocol in not always successful attempts to obtain more from other leaders.

After watching traditional dancers perform under the snowy peaks, the two presidential couples ate locally grown ham, lamb, cheese and blueberry pie. Xi said he would give the ham some publicity and praised the cheese.

Macron gave Xi a woollen blanket made in the Pyrenees, a Tour de France cycling jersey and armagnac from the nearby southwestern region - a brandy at risk of Chinese trade sanctions.

Macron pressed Xi throughout his visit to reduce the trade imbalance, with better access for European firms in China and fewer subsidies for Chinese exporters, and to weigh on Russian President Vladimir Putin on Ukraine.

Xi said he would welcome more high-level talks on trade frictions but denied there was a Chinese "overcapacity problem", casting doubts on what progress can be achieved.

French and Chinese companies concluded some agreements on Monday ranging from energy, finance and transport, but most were agreements to cooperate or renewed commitments to work together.

"Xi was consistent in signalling goodwill to (his) French interlocutors but did not come with tangible concessions on the issues that matter the most," said Mathieu Duchatel of the Institut Montaigne think-tank.


In a sign of some progress on agriculture, China will allow imports of pig origin protein feed as well as pork offal from France with immediate effect. French pork producers said the offal deal should boost pork exports by 10%.

However, European hopes of an Airbus plane order to coincide with Xi's visit appear to have been dashed, with the two sides agreeing only to expand cooperation.

A European diplomat said Xi was the "winner" of the visit, having "cemented his image as the 'ruler of the world' where Westerners are begging him to solve European problems in Ukraine".

Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of the Brussels-based ECIPE think tank, said the visit was possibly less about making concrete progress on trade than creating some policy space they might need if Donald Trump returns to the White House after November's U.S. election.


Macron has embraced, hugged, winked at or slapped counterparts on the back. He did not chance this with Xi.

The two couples travelled on separate flights from Paris and took separate cars to the mountains, where thick fog meant they missed out on the view.

Xi's Pyrenees invite nevertheless had echoes of Trump joining Macron in 2017 to watch the Bastille Day parade, and Russian President Vladimir Putin's 2019 trip to the French president's Bregancon fortress summer retreat in southeast France.

"Emmanuel Macron attempted this narcissistic diplomacy of 'I flatter the tyrant' with Vladimir Putin for five years, with the Bregancon fort ... the camaraderie," Raphael Glucksmann, who leads the French Socialists' European Parliament ticket, told RTL radio.

"And all that ended with what, the invasion of Ukraine and the threats to our democracies."

The EU's 27 members ran a goods trade deficit of 292 billion euros ($314.72 billion) with China in 2023, according to Eurostat data, down from a 397 billion-euro deficit a year earlier but still the second-highest ever level.

French cognac makers rallied on Tuesday as Xi presented what Macron described as an "open attitude" towards a trade dispute between the two countries.

A French diplomatic source said China would not impose taxes or customs duties on French cognac, pending the investigation. Xi did not comment on this during his many public statements on Monday.

Xi travels later on Tuesday to Serbia.

(Reporting by Bart Biesemans in Tarbes, Elizabeth Pineau, Tassilo Hummel, Tim Hepher, John Irish, Leigh Thomas, Ingrid Melander, Dominique Patton, in Paris, Phil Blenkinsop in Brussels, Laurie Chen in Beijing, Piotr Lipinski in Gdansk, Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Alison Williams, Nick Macfie and Sharon Singleton)