World Economy

French Gov’t Pledges More Aid for Farmers

French Gov’t Pledges More Aid for FarmersFrench Gov’t Pledges More Aid for Farmers

The French government pledged to increase aid for agriculture on Thursday, after thousands of farmers converged on Paris and blocked the city’s streets with more than 1,500 tractors to protest against high costs and low prices amid an agricultural crisis that has left some near bankruptcy.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced a series of new measures he said would free up to 3 billion euros ($3.33 billion) for farmers to invest in modernizing production over the next three years, Yahoo reported.

The government pledged to subsidize loans, cut social-security charges, delay tax bills and simplify agricultural regulation. It also proposed that the state and banks delay loan repayments due in 2015.

“France won’t let its farmers down,” Valls said, after a meeting with representatives from France’s FNSEA federation of farming unions and the young-farmers lobby Jeunes Agriculteurs.

Though the share of agriculture in the French economy has sunk to below 2% from around 21% after World War II, farming is considered key to France’s identity, so governments regularly yield to farmers’ demands.

The rally in Paris was the latest in months of protests and marked the first time farmers had taken the fight into the government’s backyard. “We want to tell them that all those rules have a cost and harm our competitiveness,” said Serge Bergeon, a 45-year-old cattle farmer and grapes grower who traveled to the French capital from Bordeaux.

Farmers were unimpressed by efforts by the French government to unlock around €600 million ($668 million) to prop up agriculture in July, when farmers blocked highways around the country as tourists tried to get away for the summer vacation.

The FNSEA, France’s largest farmers’ union which called for the protest, says relief measures announced in July are insufficient to help farmers facing the effects of a Russian embargo on western products as well as long-term problems linked to cheaper foreign competition and the negotiating power of supermarkets.

“We came to express our dismay. We can’t live from our job anymore,” said Patrice Jaouen, a 43-year-old dairy and vegetable farmer leading a tractor convoy from Brittany after driving 365 miles since Tuesday.

“We don’t want short-lived subsidies, we don’t want public money, we want an overhaul of the system.”

French farmers say they are hampered by higher social charges and stricter environmental protection rules than their EU neighbors.

Tractors converged on Paris’ Place de la Nation. Police counted 1,580 tractors, 91 buses and 50 cars carrying farmers. The FNSEA put the figure at 1,733 tractors.