French farmers suspend fuel blockades after government gesture

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Negotiations between the FNSEA union that called the protest and French Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert to resolve the latest dispute progressed on Wednesday after he sent the union a draft letter in the morning responding to some of their demands.

French farmers launched blockades of the country's 14 refineries and hundreds of Total S.A. fuel depots since Sunday evening to protest imports of low cost palm oil for manufacturing biofuel, a move they denounce as unfair competition that jeopardizes their livelihood.

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.

"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. "Do not rush into oil stations, it is often that which creates the shortage".

The mostly symbolic blockade at La Mede was lifted around midday with farmers returning to work, according to a Reuters photographer on site.

While the European Parliament has chose 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.

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

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

French authorities last month gave Total permission to use palm oil as a feedstock at its La Mede biofuel refinery in southern France, infuriating farmers who grow crops such as rapeseed. Rapeseed and sunflower oil, animal fat, used cooking oil, and residues, also will be used at the refinery.

Indonesia and Malaysia are the two largest producers of palm oil.

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