Farmers block oil refineries and depots across France

Katie Ramirez
June 13, 2018

The strikes have led to a further worsening of relations between the country's agricultural sector and President Emmanuel Macron's government.

On Sunday evening, French farmers launched blockades of the country's 14 refineries to protest imports of low cost palm oil for manufacturing biofuel. "We are disappointed given farmers' involvement", Christiane Lambert, head of the FNSEA which organised the protests, said after meeting with Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert.

The minister called on angry protesters to sit for negotiations to reach "adequate solutions", insisting that the government would not back down on its decision to allow energy giant Total to import palm oil at a biofuel plant in La Mede, southeastern France.

Total committed to use less than 300,000 tonnes of crude palm oil per year at its La Mede biofuel refinery out of a total processing capacity of 650,000 tonnes, and to use 50,000 tonnes of locally grown rapeseed.

Total's decision was "the last straw", she said in an interview with Franceinfo television.

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According to the farmers, these measures show the "government incoherence", which encourages the union to improve its performance while approving worldwide trade agreements that provoke a distortion of competition.

Fuel shortages were not expected as a result of the blockade, given France's network of emergency fuel reserves and in the absence of sympathy action by fuel sector workers. Palm oil is cheaper than rapeseed oil. French farmers say its growing use has added to their competitive disadvantage because of high taxes and strict environmental regulations in France. Rapeseed and sunflower oil, animal fat, used cooking oil, and residues, also will be used at the refinery.

Junior ecology minister Sebastien Lecornu also confirmed France would propose a decision be taken at European Union level to cap and progressively cut palm oil imports, Lambert said.

The issue has caused friction with Indonesia and Malaysia, the world's two largest palm oil producers, with Malaysian officials warning of trade repercussions that could affect a potential deal to buy French fighter jets.

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