French minister says farmers' blockade of refineries, depots illegal: RTL radio

Christopher Davidson
June 13, 2018

France's main farm union called early on Wednesday for protestors to continue a blockade of refineries and fuel depots after the government failed to ease their concerns.

"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", said the minister, Sebastien Lecornu, on Europe 1 radio.

Dozens of French farmers blocked access to 13 refineries across the country on Monday to protest plans to import palm oil for use in biofuels, a move they denounce as unfair competition which jeopardises their livelihood.

The oil and gas producer operates five refineries and nine petrol depots in France. 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. Palm oil is cheaper than rapeseed oil. It said service was normal at its 2,200 petrol stations in France. The farmers are strongly opposed to the importation of the product which, they say, will likely cut into the profits of locally produced rapeseed oil. Environmentalists also blame palm oil cultivation for deforestation in southeast Asia.

No impact from farmers' blockade on refinery operations - Total

Last month, authorities gave Total permission to use palm oil as a feedstock.

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.

The number of French farms decreased by 7 percent past year and their bankruptcies rose by the proportion in France as a whole despite economy growth, according to the national statistical institute INSEE. Union president Lambert attributed them to continuous downwards pressure on prices, compounded by surging environmental and health norms.

"In South America the average cattle ranch has 24,000 cows, while in France we have on average just 80 - and yet we're always being told to be more environmentally friendly", said Christiane Lambert, president of the FNSEA farmers' union, France's biggest.

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