Breaking news. French farmers’ unions suspend protests after government offer

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 the 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 FNSEA chief Arnaud Rousseau.

Earlier on 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.

Farmers on a blocked highway watch French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announcing new measures for farmers.

Attal promised there will be no new pesticide ban “without a solution” and said no pesticides would be banned in France that are authorised elsewhere in the EU.

The statement was in response to a demand by French farmers angry that France regulates pesticide products more strictly than neighbouring countries.

Attal also announced that France is immediately banning 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 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 in aid to livestock farmers and a decrease in taxes on farms being transferred from older generations to younger ones.

Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau, meanwhile, announced a €2 billion package to make loans for those who are setting up as farmers.

The French government has also doubled the number of controls to sanction food industrial groups and supermarkets that don’t comply with a 2018 law meant to ensure farmers are paid fair prices. Companies that don’t comply can face a fine of up to 2% of their sales revenues.

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