French minister slams 'illegal' oil refinery blockades

French minister slams 'illegal' oil refinery blockades

The Vatry fuel depot in the Marne region of northeastern France was the first to be blocked on Sunday evening as about 100 farmers set up barricades with tractors and mounds of rubble, a spokesman from the FNSEA farmers union told Reuters.

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.

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".

Responding to a call by the National Federation of Agricultural Producers Unions and Young Farmers, the workers began yesterday the actions they will carry out for at least three days, and could be extended throughout the week.

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 companies, on the other hand, have urged people to not panic-buy gas as it would result in shortages.

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The decision to lift the USA ban on ZTE has faced sharp criticism from United States politicians, including from some Republicans. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced a deal last week to lift the ban, which had brought ZTE's factories to a standstill.

Farm Minister Stephane Travert pushed back against the farmers, stating that the blockades were illegal and will be futile as the government's decision to allow Total's importation of palm oil will remain in effect.

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

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.

Total's initiative to import palm oil for its biofuel plant was just "the last straw", the representative added. Palm oil is cheaper than rapeseed oil.

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.

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