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France's 2 key farmers unions suspend protests after new offers from the government

Farmers watch French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announcing new measures for farmers on a blocked highway on Thursday in Chilly-Mazarin, south of Paris.
Christophe Ena
Farmers watch French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announcing new measures for farmers on a blocked highway on Thursday in Chilly-Mazarin, south of Paris.

PARIS — France's two major farmers unions announced Thursday their decision to suspend protests and lift road blockades across the country, in a dramatic development shortly after the French prime minister unveiled a new set of measures they see as "tangible progress."

Farmers have been protesting for days across the country to denounce low wages, heavy regulation and unfair competition from abroad.

The President of Young Farmers union, Arnaud Gaillot, spoke alongside the head of France's biggest farmers union FNSEA on Thursday and said: "We call on our members to suspend the blockades."

"We have been heard on a number of points, with tangible progress," including emergency measures to financially support struggling farmers and wine producers, said Arnaud Rousseau, president of FNSEA.

Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced a new set of measures, coming on top of other promises made in recent days.

His speech came as convoys with hundreds of angry farmers driving heavy-duty tractors created chaos outside the European Union's headquarters, demanding leaders at an EU summit provide relief from rising prices and bureaucracy.

"The question is currently being asked throughout Europe: is there a future for our agriculture? Of course, the answer is yes," Attal said.

On road blockades across France, protesters watched the speech on smartphones and televisions they had set up. There were on Thursday morning traffic barricades on eight highways around Paris amid a large police presence.

Attal promised there will be no new pesticide ban "without a solution" and said no pesticides would be banned in France that are authorized elsewhere in the EU. The statement was in response to a demand by French farmers who have denounced stricter regulations in France on pesticide products than in neighboring countries.

Also, Attal announced that France was banning, starting immediately, imports of fruits and vegetables coming from outside the EU that have been treated with Thiaclopride — an insecticide currently banned in the bloc.

France will propose the creation of a "European control force" to combat fraud, he said, particularly regarding health regulations, and fight against import of food products that go against European and French health standards.

Attal also reaffirmed France would remain opposed to the EU signing a free-trade deal with the Mercosur trade group. "There is no question of France accepting this treaty," he said.

The government's goals with the newly announced measures are "to give food its value back" and "to boost farmers' income, to protect them against unfair competition and to simplify their daily life," he said.

Attal also announced 150 million euros ($162 million) in aid to livestock farmers and a decrease in taxes on farms being transferred from older generations to younger ones.

Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau, speaking after Attal, announced a 2 billion euro ($2.16 billion) package to make loans for those who are setting up as farmers.

The French government has also doubled numbers of controls to sanction food industrial groups and supermarkets that don't comply with a 2018 law meant to pay a fair price to farmers. The fine can reach up to 2% of sales revenues to companies that don't comply.

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The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]