World Bulletin / News Desk
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.
“This blockade cannot be the solution to the discussion that we are going to have. This blockade is illegal. It is not by blocking refineries that we are going to find adequate solutions,” Travert told French RTL radio.
The minister called on angry protesters to sit for negotiations to reach "adequate solutions", insisting that the government would not back down on its decision to allow energy giant Total to import palm oil at a biofuel plant in La Mede, southeastern France.
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.
"I want Total and biofuel producers to reach an agreement on a base price and a contract that will benefit rapeseed producers," Travert said, adding there was no risk of a shortage of petrol due to the movement.
Travert said he would meet the labor unions on Tuesday to jointly "find alternatives together."
Christiane Lambert, president of farmers’ union FNSEA, said the blockades were intended 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’s decision was "the last straw," she said in an interview with Franceinfo television.
The farmers' unions warned the three days action could be extended.
The number of French farms decreased by 7 percent last year and their bankruptcies rose by the proportion in France as a whole despite economy growth, according to the national statistical institute INSEE.