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Francois Hollande French president warns against protectionism on Latin American visit

Hollande made the comment on the first day of a Latin American tour that is taking him to Chile and Colombia.

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French President Francois Hollande (R) and his Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet leave a joint press conference at La Moneda Palace at the start of his two-day visit to Chile, in Santiago on January 21, 2017 play

French President Francois Hollande (R) and his Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet leave a joint press conference at La Moneda Palace at the start of his two-day visit to Chile, in Santiago on January 21, 2017

(AFP)
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French President Francois Hollande warned Saturday that protectionism is "the worst response," in a seeming allusion to the "America First" policies of new US President Donald Trump.

Hollande made the comment on the first day of a Latin American tour that is taking him to Chile and Colombia -- one of his last foreign trips before stepping down after April-May elections choose his successor.

"We are utterly opposed to protectionism. We favor regulated globalization so that there are health standards, social standards... in the exchanges between countries, between regions," the French leader said in a joint news conference with Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet.

Protectionism, he said, "prevents trade, damages growth and affects employment, including in countries that forge protectionism and especially erect it."

Although he did not mention any countries specifically, the message appeared to be directed at the United States, where Trump has vowed to establish a "buy American, hire American" national policy.

That stance has unnerved Latin American economies which fear trade with the US will be hurt and other countries will follow suit with similar responses.

Hollande's trip aimed to highlight French and European Union ties to Latin America.

He and Bachelet -- who is also to step down late this year -- were launching a Franco-Chilean Year of Innovation, signing a series of cooperation accords and talking up investment opportunities.

Bachelet told AFP ahead of Hollande's arrival that she was looking to France "to back us" in renegotiating an association agreement in place with the European Union.

Hollande, who was to leave late Sunday for Colombia, is deeply unpopular with voters in France.

He has said he won't try to run for re-election, leaving the field open to leftwing allies and conservative rivals.

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