French farmers start refineries blockade over palm oil imports

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Christiane Lambert, president of farmers' union FNSEA, said the blockades were meant to pressure the government over recent trade agreements that would allow imports of meat, sugar, and ethanol from countries "that do not respect the same conditions of production as French products". They have joined environmentalists in their call to ban palm oil cultivation as it would lead to deforestation in southeast Asia, where most of the world's palm oil is being produced.

French farmers blocked access to oil depots and refineries using tonnes of onions, wood and rubble as part of a three-day protest against plans to allow Total to use imported palm oil at a biofuel plant.

Farm Minister Stephane Travert said on Monday the farmers' blockades were illegal and the government would not rescind the decision to allow Total to use imported palm oil.

According to Deutsche Welle, they are also anxious about emerging competition, as local biofuel producers might want to go over to a cheaper palm oil from overseas instead of buying locally produced and more expensive rapeseed oil.

Total's chief executive Patrick Pouyanne has pledged to buy 50,000 tons of French rapeseed, also known as canola oil, as part of the 650,000 tons of oil which will be used each year at the La Mede refinery outside the southern city of Marseille.

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Organisers say the farmers' blockades are aimed at pressuring the government into curbing palm oil use at La Mede and to address other grievances such as imports of South American meat.

Widespread fuel shortages were not expected, however, given France's network of seven refineries, 200 fuel depots, emergency fuel reserves, and the absence of sympathy action by fuel sector workers.

French farmers are the largest beneficiaries of European Union subsidies receiving €9 billion a year in direct aid.

Last year, the number of French farm bankruptcies rose by 7 percent.

"We're going to ask our members to suspend with immediate effect their blockade of the different sites", Jeremy Decerle, leader of the FNSEA's youth-wing, told reporters.

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