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France’s Senate suspends palm oil tax, delays neonic ban


Paris | Reuters — The French Senate on Thursday adopted a revised version of its biodiversity bill in which senators scrapped an additional tax on palm oil and delayed until 2020 a ban on pesticides blamed for harming bees.

The decisions are not final as the two houses of the French parliament now have to reach an agreement, or the bill will end up at the National Assembly, which has the final word.

The Senate had introduced the additional tax on palm oil used in food to encourage the sector to reduce the environmental damage palm oil plantations can cause. The action was vehemently opposed by leading producers Indonesia and Malaysia.

The National Assembly in March sharply reduced the extra tax and excluded oils produced in a sustainable way.

The softening, supported by the government, was welcomed but not enough to please the producers who still view the tax as discriminatory.

The latest version of the biodiversity bill adopted by the Senate on Thursday scrapped the additional tax on palm oil altogether, with senators saying it could be against international trade rules and that it would be more appropriate in a finance legislation.

But the tax on palm oil can be reintroduced in the law at a later stage, notably by the National Assembly.

The fate of another key proposal of the biodiversity law, a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, is also uncertain.

The government had expressed mixed feelings about the proposal with Environment Minister Segolene Royal saying it would protect bees while Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll warned a unilateral French move on neonicotinoids could hurt farmers in the EU’s biggest crop-producing country.

It since clarified its position and backed on Thursday an amendment requesting a study on substitution products to neonicotinoids and delaying the ban to July 2020, against September 2018 in the text adopted at the National Assembly.

The EU limited the use of neonicotinoid chemicals, produced by companies including Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, two years ago after research pointed to risks for bees, which play a crucial role pollinating crops.

Reporting for Reuters by Sybille de La Hamaide in Paris.

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