French farmers block refineries over palm oil imports

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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.

The French farmers' blockades at oil refineries to oppose the government approval of Total's use of imported palm oil at a biofuel plant was "illegal", said Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert.

"France imports several products that don't respect the rules applied to French farmers".

The farmers' protests began late Sunday and have been called for three days because "dialogue has broken down" with the government, Greffon said. "It is not by blocking refineries that we are going to find adequate solutions", Travert told RTL Radio.

Lambert said the blockades were meant to pressure the French 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".

He also said there was no risk of a shortage of gasoline from the refinery blockades, though farmers have warned they are prepared for a long strike. President of the National Federation of Agricultural Holders' Unions Christiane Lambert insisted that the imports can undermine French agriculture, according to local media. Recently, it has invested €275 million ($324 million) to transform a refinery at La Mede, in southern France, into a plant that can make 500,000 tons of biodiesel per year.

The farmers also have the support of environmental activists, and are hoping to rally support among consumers anxious about unfair competition stemming from free-trade accords, including the CETA deal between the European Union and Canada as well as ongoing talks with the European Union and South American Mercosur nations.

"France over-regulates", she said, adding: "We are told to raise quality and standards and to do organic and use fewer chemicals, but the prices are not there".

"This proposal is a betrayal of promises made by the French Government, and others in Europe, to the people of Malaysia", they said in a statement sent by Faces of Palm Oil lobby group. The refineries were still operating.

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