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French grain farmers take on the streets of Paris

Source: Reuters - Tue 27th Apr 2010

Thousands of French grain farmers, many on tractors, converged on Paris early on Tuesday demanding urgent government action to boost prices to counter sharp falls in income in the past two years.

Grain growers are the latest French farm sector to voice anger over a broad decline in farmgate prices, and their protest will be another thorn in the side of President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose approval ratings are hovering around all-time lows.

Some 5,000 grain farmers, backed up by over 1,000 tractors, were due to start a demonstration at 0800 GMT that will take them to the Nation, Republic and Bastille squares in central Paris.

The discontent of France's cereal growers, among the most productive in the world, has built up this year because they say a cut in subsidies and the prospect of another bumper harvest will aggravate already low prices and cause losses to mount.

Average wheat prices fell 25 percent in France last year, and income for grain, oilseed and protein crop farmers slumped 51 percent, according to estimates by the French farm ministry.

Farm unions have welcomed the tone adopted by Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire, and more recently by Sarkozy, pointing at the government's readiness to curb new environmental rules.

But they remain unconvinced by a package of low-interest loans and tax relief offered by the government. Grain growers are now calling for measures like interest-free export credits and expanded public storage to clear stocks.

Tuesday's demonstration in Paris is also addressed at Europe, taking place on the eve of a visit by European Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos.

France is the largest beneficiary under Europe's sprawling Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), receiving last year about 20 percent of EU subsidies of 40 billion euros ($53.30 billion).

Talks are starting this year on renewing CAP after 2013 and France has called on other EU members to maintain a strong EU farm policy, but Paris will face firm opposition from other EU members such as Britain in favour of a streamlined policy.

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