* France seeks to freeze and then lower palm oil imports
* Says committed to do so at EU level
* Farmers protest against govt’s go-ahead for palm oil use
* Junior minister says France also aims to cap soybean oil use
PARIS, June 11 (Reuters) - France wants to cap and progressively cut palm oil imports and will propose to do so at a European level, a junior minister said on Monday, as farmers block refineries across the country in protest against use of the vegetable oil in biofuels.
“We will commit at EU level to cap, to freeze ... based on the total 2017 volumes, the volume of imported (palm) oil to reduce it gradually in the coming years,” French junior ecology minister Sebastien Lecornu said on Europe 1 radio.
The move is aimed at reducing the use of palm oil blamed for causing deforestation in southeast Asia, he said.
French farmers were blocking access to oil depots and at least three refineries using tonnes of onions, wood and rubble on Monday as part of a three-day protest over plans to allow Total to use palm oil at a biofuel plant.
Separately, junior minister Brune Poirson, who reports to environment minister Nicolas Hulot, said on Twitter that “France wants to stop the rise in use from one year to the other” for both palm oil and soybean oil.
Brune is in Luxembourg where European energy ministers are meeting to discuss the bloc’s energy and climate goals.
It would then revise that cap depending on the conditions of forests and develop a strategy to fight deforestation, she wrote, without giving further details.
Hulot had said last year France would take steps to restrict the use of palm oil in producing biofuels in order to reduce deforestation in the countries of origin, without detailing the measures.
Small farmers in Malaysia, the world’s second largest palm oil producer after Indonesia, said a move to cap palm oil exports at an EU level would be discriminatory and a “betrayal”.
“This proposal is a betrayal of promises made by the French Government, and others in Europe, to the people of Malaysia,” they said in a statement sent by Faces of Palm Oil lobby group.
“Those promises must be honoured. Attempts to camouflage this discrimination behind technical calculations are deceitful.”
French Defence Minister Florence Parly said in comments reported in the Malaysian press in January that Malaysia could “rely on France” for support against the proposed ban. (Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide and Julie Carriat Editing by Bate Felix/David Evans)