New deal for French farmers after 1 500-tractor protest

2015-09-03 21:28
Farmers park their tractors during a protest at Nation Square in Paris. (Christophe Ena, AP)

Farmers park their tractors during a protest at Nation Square in Paris. (Christophe Ena, AP)

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Paris - French farmers drove their tractors and trucks in to Paris on Thursday to protest at what they see as impossible market conditions, prompting Prime Minister Manuel Valls to declare new measures to protect the country's agriculture sector.

Umbrella union FNSEA estimated that 1 733 tractors drove into the city, while a police spokesperson said officials put the number at 1 580.

Protests remained peaceful throughout the day, and many tractors began to leave Parisian streets by evening.

"We are the best farmers in the world, but the controllers are the toughest with us," Emanuelle Enot, a farmer from Brittany, told dpa. "We have to clearly indicate the origin of products, reduce the charges and reduce the norms."

Stockbreeders have been demonstrating for weeks against low prices, especially for meat and dairy, and strict rules governing agriculture.

A government aid package of €600m ($664m) was announced in July, but many farmers say the move wasn't enough.

After meeting with FNSEA president Xavier Beulin and a leader of a youth farmer faction, Valls announced €350m of support for farmers annually to be cobbled from regional, national and European sources over three years.

He also promised debt restructuring and loan deferrals for the rest of the year, as well as decreased social security contribution requirements.

"Our entire country is mobilised for its farmers, for them to be able to live from their work," Valls said. "Today, the state supports urgent complementary solutions with long-term perspectives for France to retain its rank in this sector."

After the meeting, Beulin welcomed the measures, but other farmers and protesters gathered in the Place de la Nacion expressed disappointment. Unfair competition, scrapping EU milk quotas and a Russian ban on European imports has made for a particularly difficult year.

Low prices

The Agriculture Ministry in Paris warned recently that about 20 000 stockbreeders in the country could face bankruptcy in part because of low prices.

Farmers across Europe have expressed similar concerns, and demonstrations in Germany and Belgium have added to mounting pressure on the European Union to address broad dissatisfaction.

EU agriculture ministers will hold an extraordinary meeting in Brussels on Monday to discuss the economic problems in their markets, especially when it comes to the dairy and livestock sectors.

"I think we all agree there are difficulties," EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said last week.

"There's the Ukraine crisis, there's a Greece crisis, there's a problem in the Chinese market, ... so there's an oversupply in the global marketplace in relation to dairy products in particular."

"I'm hopeful that we'll be able to make some announcements on September 7," he added, without going into further detail.

The EU has already offered support to farmers hard hit by a Russian ban on European food exports, but what has been done so far is "nowhere enough to compensate producers for their losses", the European farmers' association Copa-Cogeca said.

Farmers from around Europe are expected in Brussels on Monday to demand more help for dairy, pork, beef, fruit and vegetable producers. Copa-Cogeca said 4 000 farmers and 1 000 tractors are due to participate.

It blames the trouble in the agriculture sector mainly on the Russian food ban.

"Producers are victims of international politics," Copa-Cogeca said. "Prices are below production costs in many countries and farm incomes low, forcing some out of business."

Others have pointed to the end of long-standing EU milk quotas in April as playing a role, but Hogan said this would cause only "short-term price volatility" and vowed that the quotas were "gone forever".

Read more on:    russia  |  france

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