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Macron Promises to Protect French Farmers 

French President Emmanuel Macron, center, speaks with guests next to Minister of the Ecological and Social Transition Nicolas Hulot, left, and French President of the Young Farmers Association Jeremy Decerle, right, after he delivered a speech to the young French farmers invited at the Elysee Palace before the opening of the 2018 Paris International Agricultural Show in Paris, France, Feb. 22, 2018.

President Emmanuel Macron has promised to prevent foreigners from buying up French farmland.

The promise came as the centrist leader hosted a lunch for about 1,000 young farmers at the Elysée Palace, an event seen by critics as a bid to buy their goodwill ahead of the annual Paris International Agriculture Fair.

“For me, French agricultural lands are strategic investments upon which our sovereignty depends, so we can’t allow hundreds of hectares of land to be bought by foreign powers without us knowing the aims of these purchases,” Macron said.

WATCH: International Agriculture Fair Opens Saturday in Paris

International Agriculture Fair Opens Saturday in Paris
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He was alluding to news that a Chinese investment group had bought 2,700 hectares of prime farmland in central France in 2016 and 2017. The purchase provoked an outcry among French farmers and Macron’s critics, who accuse the president of neglecting rural areas in favor of major urban centers.

Chinese agriculture companies have been buying or leasing farms abroad for decades as they sought to feed an increasingly wealthy population of 1.4 billion people at home.

Macron also sought to assuage fears among the farmers over trade talks with South America and an overhaul of subsidies for disadvantaged farm belts.

Last week, farmers protested across France to oppose increased agricultural imports from South America, which they say are produced with lower standards than in Europe.

Macron reiterated French “red lines” over food and farming standards and said he would demand a safeguard clause to suspend any trade accord if agricultural markets were disrupted.