France seeks freeze on palm oil use, imports

French farmers block refineries fuel depots over palm oil imports

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".

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.

He said that the government is not going to backtrack on its decision to allow Total to use imported palm oil, and warned that the protest could not lead to any "adequate solutions".

The palm oil authorization has soured already-fragile relations between the European Union's biggest farm sector and the government of President Emmanuel Macron.

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.

Total's 253,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) Gonfreville refinery and nearby oil depot, its 109,000 bpd Feyzin refinery, the 220,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) Donges refinery and 102,000 bpd Grandpuits refinery were among those blocked by farmers.

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Total has invested 275 million euros ($324 million) to transform La Mede refinery into a plant that can make 500,000 tons of biodiesel per year.

Many farmers welcomed the president's call for fairer farmgate prices as part of a food chain review past year.

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.

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

"This blockade can not be the solution", the minister told RTL radio, adding that "this blockade is illegal".

As a result, more and more French farmers are growing suspicious of President Macron, who is backing the bloc's trade talks with other countries, such as the Mercosur group of Latin American countries.

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