Situation sparks wave of condemnation from Spanish producers as trucks are delayed and destroyed

French farmer protests

French farmers are threatening to blockade the capital city

French farmers have blocked major motorways around Paris with tractors in a standoff with the government over concerns about inflation and competition from cheap imports.

In a dramatic escalation of the protests, farmers have moved hundreds of tractors into place around the French capital in what is being termed “Operation Paris Siege”. In response, 15,000 police have been mobilised to keep access to Rungis, the region’s main fresh food market, and Charles de Gaulle-Roissy airport open.

Daniel Soares, international director of French produce association Interfel, told Fruitnet that access to the market remained open as of Tuesday morning.

“For the moment we’re seeing some disruption in logistics, but Rungis market is not blocked,” he said.

The rapidly deteriorating situation prompted President Emmanuel Macron to hold a crisis meeting with key cabinet members. He is due to make a statement on Tuesday afternoon.

The demonstrations have sparked a wave of condemnation from Spanish producers who have seen trucks of fruits and vegetables bound for the European market delayed, and in some cases destroyed by the protestors. The demonstrations coincide with the peak production window for a number of products including citrus, winter vegetables and strawberries.

Last week the Citrus Management Committee (CGC), whose members account for 70 per cent of Spanish citrus exports, added its voice to demands that the national and European authorities urgently open a corridor to guarantee the unimpeded transit of fruits and vegetables through France.

On Saturday, it released a statement saying thousands of trucks had been affected, causing serious losses to the sector due to general delay in deliveries. “For the second consecutive day, in the service areas of several highways in the province of Barcelona the police continued to detain trucks because of the saturation at the border crossing of la Jonquera (Gerona),” the GCG said, adding that “the crisis could worsen in the short term if we see a massive cancellations of orders resulting in shortages”.

Agricultural union Asaja told Spanish daily El Economista that “the situation has gone from serious to very serious. The demonstrations have begun to affect a good number of companies and cooperatives in Almería that are seeing trucks of fruits and vegetables being vandalised”.

Coexphal, the Association of Organisations of Fruit and Vegetable Producers of the province of Almería, said its members have already reported order cancellations from customers due to trucks not arriving on schedule.

It said with exports blocked, the resulting glut of produce in the domestic market is sinking prices “at a forced pace”. The association estimates losses to be running at €75m per week.

In addition to the 400,000 tonnes of produce Almería sends to France each year, its 2.7m tonnes of exports to Europe have to pass through the neighbouring country.

Berry producers in Huelva have also been caught up in the protests. Industry association Freshuelva sent, through Fepex, a letter to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Luis Planas, calling for his intervention to enable berry trucks to circulate through France.

Freshuelva, Coexphal and Asaja said while they understood and share many of the concerns of French farmers’ demands, such as the lack of coherence between the EU’s agricultural and trade policy and loss of profitability in the industry, it does not give them the right to attack production from other member states.

Portugal added its voice to the condemnation on Tuesday. Gonçalo Andrade of Portugal Fresh said: ”We are already experiencing significant delays in fruit and vegetable deliveries to customers in France, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK due to several motorways being cut off. Shipments are running about 24 to 48 hours late at this point. Customers have been flexible but will be able to substitute Portuguese products from Egypt, Turkey, Poland, Germany, Austria and even South American origins.”