French farmers to stage refinery blockade to protest palm oil imports

View of the entrance at the Total refinery in La Mede France 23 February 2010

The protests are a sign of growing anger in France's farming communities which have so far not mobilised in large numbers against the government of President Emmanuel Macron since his election.

On Sunday evening, French farmers launched blockades of the country's 14 refineries to protest imports of low cost palm oil for manufacturing biofuel.

Reuters quoted France's Total as saying that personnel from the oil and gas company had access to four refineries in France and a blockade of the sites by farmers had not had an impact on operations.

"We're not against imports. but for consumers, we want the government to be consistent and apply the same rules to imports, otherwise French agriculture will disappear", said Samuel Vandaele of the Young Farmers' union outside a Total refinery southeast of Paris.

It urged clients not to rush to petrol stations to fill their tanks, which could spark panic buying and shortages.

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

No impact from farmers' blockade on refinery operations - Total

The move came after the French energy giant Total chose to use a cheaper, imported palm oil at its biofuel plant.

"Our target is the state", Lambert said, adding that Total's decision on palm oil was "the last straw".

Total argues that its refining plan involves less palm oil than allowed by the authorities, offers an outlet for local rapeseed and will develop large-scale recycling of used oil and fat.

While the European Parliament has made a decision to ban palm oil imports by 2021, France recently gave the go-ahead for a biorefinery owned by Total, a move that prompted many critics.

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.

"We will commit at European Union level to cap, to freeze. based on the total 2017 volumes, the volume of imported (palm) oil to reduce it gradually in the coming years", French junior ecology minister Sebastien Lecornu said on Europe 1 radio.

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