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France fails to win immediate EU action on farming crisis


PARIS Feb 15 France failed to secure further
relief measures for its struggling livestock farmers at a
meeting of European Union agriculture ministers on Monday, as it
tries to contain protests sparked by persistent low prices.

French dairy and meat farmers have been staging protests for
weeks, blocking roads, dumping manure, straw and earth in front
of public buildings and supermarkets.

The growing crisis had prompted President Francois Hollande
last week to promise tax cuts for farmers and to call for
decisions at the EU farm minister meeting.

France, the EU’s largest agricultural producer, had gone to
Monday’s EU meeting with a set of proposals to regulate
oversupply in the milk and pigmeat sectors, but the European
Commission asked it to come back with new proposals.

Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan will go to Paris on Feb.
25 to meet French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Agriculture
Minister Stephane Le Foll to discuss these measures, ahead of
the next meeting of EU farm ministers in mid-March.

“We have several days to work on new solutions and convince
all our partners and the Commission (…) to make proposals,” Le
Foll told reporters after the meeting.

France initially favoured lifting the price at which milk
producers can sell into public storage but many member states
were still at odds with that system, recalling times when it led
to large stockpiles, he said.

“The agreement that seems to be shaping up is that, to
contain the rise in output, we need to innovate,” he said,
adding that there were several potential tools, without
detailing them.

In its proposal to Monday’s meeting, France had suggested
financial incentives for farmers who voluntarily reduce
production when prices fall. It also called for longer periods
for EU-subsidised storage of pork and a lifting of Russia’s
embargo on EU pork.

Hogan said some of French proposals, such as using export
credits and renewing efforts to get Russia to lift an embargo on
pigmeat, deserved consideration but would need EU-wide support.

“All of us agree that this is not a situation of business as
usual, that this is a very deep-seated and difficult market
situation for our farmers,” Hogan said. “I think some time might
be needed to bring a broad consensus in the Council.”

Le Foll said he had the backing of countries including
Germany and Spain for further support measures for farmers on
top of a 500 million euro package granted last year.

As it seeks to ease tensions with farmers before the
politically important Paris farm show at the end of the month,
the French government has also been warning supermarket
retailers not to push prices down during annual negotiations
with suppliers this month.

(Additional reporting by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Bate Felix and
David Evans)



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