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Food trade in France - statistics & facts

Are the French agriculture and food industry undergoing a revolution internationally? While the European Union has been the preserve of French farmers for many years, it seems that it is facing the emergence of new major players on the old continent. The Netherlands is in the lead, having recorded a balance of trade profit of more than 18 billion euros in 2019, while France recorded a trade balance worth 8 billion euros in its food sector that same year.

French agriculture: heading out of Europe

The agreement between the EU and Canada (CETA), and the treaties under negotiation with the Southern common market (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay) and the United States (TAFTA) are controversial in Europe but demonstrate the desire of European countries to increase their trade with the Americas. For France, agreements on agriculture are crucial. Indeed, since 2015, exports to non-EU countries have taken a significant share in France's food trade balance, while profits to European countries have been declining to a deficit since 2018. In 2020, a deficit balance of several billion euros was recorded with such European trading partners as Spain and the Netherlands. However, the single market is still the first partner for French exports.

Wine and cereals, a lifeline for French exports?

Dependence on the wine and beverage sector has indeed increased over the last few years. The French food trade balance has been falling since 2011, if beverages are excluded.
While a true mastodon in the environment of the French food industry, it also has a thorn in its side. The U.S. represents a major negotiating force for the French beverage sector, claiming 16 percent of all French wine exports in 2020. Indeed, French winemakers learned the hard way when Donald Trump taxed 25 percent of French wines in October 2019 in retaliation for the GAFAM tax to stop the tax evasion schemes in France of Internet giants. Hence the need for France to find new partners, especially in South America, with whom the free trade agreement with Mercosur provides for the elimination of customs duties on wine. Another beneficiary sector of French agriculture is cereals, whose industry recorded a profit of 5.89 billion euros in 2020 internationally.

Fruits and vegetables, the main loss-making sector

France benefits from a variety of quite exceptional climates for a territory of only 550,000 km² - mediterranean, oceanic, mountainous, and continental. When considering overseas regions and territories, it is also possible to grow tropical plants such as bananas or sugar cane. However, France imports more fruit and vegetables than it exports. In 2019, more than 6.4 billion euros worth of fruit and vegetables were imported, compared to 2.3 billion euros exported. Nonetheless, some fruits and vegetables are in abundances, such as apples and potatoes.

An essential sector in the French trade balance, the food industry has been able to refocus on new partners to draw its surpluses upwards. However, French agriculture has proved to be dependent on the vagaries of international negotiations, such as the political taxation of French wine. As it relies on the French wine and spirits industry, the importance of finding new trading partners is of the utmost urgency to guarantee the sustainability of this sector.

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