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UPDATE: Huge disruption in Berlin as thousands of farmers in tractors shut down streets

Thousands of farmers descended on Berlin in their tractors on Tuesday in a massive protest against government plans.

UPDATE: Huge disruption in Berlin as thousands of farmers in tractors shut down streets
A long line of tractors in Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

The rally, being held in protest to government plans which farmers say are threatening their livelihoods, is having a major impact on traffic in the capital. Several roads and the Autobahn have been hit by huge traffic jams due to the overload of tractors.

Long convoys brought traffic to a standstill in the heart of the city's government district, in the biggest display yet of farmers' anger over agricultural policy changes agreed by Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet in September.

More than 5,000 tractors as well as 10,000 farmers, made their way from across Germany to the Straße des 17. June, at the city's famous Brandenburg Gate in the centre of Berlin, for Tuesday's rally.

Organisers said as many as 8,500 tractors took part.

“First the plants starve, then the farmers, then you,” read one sign attached to a green tractor.

“Do you know who feeds you?” read another.

The government's policy package includes plans to limit the use of fertiliser to tackle nitrate pollution in groundwater, and phase out the controversial weedkiller glyphosate by 2023 to protect insect populations.

Furious farmers say the environmental protection measures go too far and pose an existential risk to their farms.

Many are also fed up with the “farmer bashing” they say has cast them as villains in the fight against climate change.

“I'm feeling less and less confident about the future,” 24-year-old farmer Rene Wessler told AFP at the protest.

Residents in the capital were urged to leave their cars at home. There was also disruption to bus and tram lines.

Convoys, some up to 20 kilometres long, were seen early in the morning travelling along roads.

On Tuesday morning the exits at Tempelhofer Damm, Kaiserdamm and Beusselstraße on the southern city Autobahn were closed. In addition, the Victory Column and the Straße des 17. Juni between Brandenburger Tor and Ernst-Reuter-Platz have been shut. Parts of Kaiserdamm and Bismarckstraße were also closed to regular traffic.

Drivers were facing 50 minute delays on Heerstraße, where traffic was also congested due to the rally.

First tractors arrive for rally

Brandenburg police said a total of 5,095 tractors are involved in the protest. 

The first farmers arrived with their vehicles at Brandenburg Gate in the early hours of Tuesday.

Another 1,825 tractors followed early Tuesday morning from Brandenburg.  In Perleberg alone, according to the police, almost 550 farmers spent the night with their tractors at a meeting point. “There are 1,000 vehicles on the route from Perleberg to Nauen, which we are leading to Berlin,” a police spokesman said in the morning.

More and more vehicles joined the queue, causing major traffic disruption.

Police recorded two accidents caused by drivers overtaking. They urged people to be careful on the roads.

The demo is the latest in a series of protests by farmers in Germany. They are being organized by the movement Land schafft Verbindung (countryside creates connection) as well as the German Farmers' Association and the alliance Forum Natur.

READ ALSO: German farmers shut down streets in nationwide protest against government plans

Farmers in their tractors in Berlin on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

READ ALSO: 'What harms insects harms people': Germany to ban cancer-linked pesticide

City streets shut down

Berlin police were expecting severe traffic problems throughout Tuesday, especially in the districts of Mitte and Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf.

In a tweet they said there would be “significant traffic disruption”.

The Straße des 17. Juni was completely closed from 6am, Altonaer Straße from 9am onwards.

Bismarckstraße – Kaiserdamm and Hofjägerallee – Klingelhöferstraße streets were closed off, according to the Berlin Traffic Information Centre (VIZ). No regular traffic, no delivery traffic and no taxis are permitted.

Additionally, the exits Beusselstraße (direction Wedding), Kaiserdamm-Süd (direction Neukölln) and Tempelhofer Damm (both directions) was to be closed on the city Autobahn A100 between 9am and 9pm There was also set to be considerable restrictions on local public transport, especially to bus and tram services.

Traffic jams were also expected in Brandenburg and drivers are urged to check for updates.

Latest protest

Other German cities have seen similar demos in recent weeks, including  large one in Bonn last month.

Farmers have also taken to the streets in France and the Netherlands with similar complaints.

Germany's agriculture minister Klöckner defended the government's measures, aimed in part at bringing the country in line with EU regulations, but said she understood the farmers' frustrations.

Tractors in Berlin. Photo: DPA

“Consumers keep expecting farmers to do more, but are increasingly less willing to pay more for it,” she told ARD broadcaster, calling for more appreciation for the industry.

Klöckner was due to address the rally later on Tuesday, where farmers plan to hand her a large envelope containing letters expressing their grievances.

Merkel has invited some 40 agricultural organisations to the chancellery for talks on December 2nd.

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FARMING

WTO rules US tariffs on Spanish olives breach rules

A US decision to slap steep import duties on Spanish olives over claims they benefited from subsidies constituted a violation of international trade rules, the World Trade Organisation ruled Friday.

WTO rules US tariffs on Spanish olives breach rules
Farmers had just begun harvesting olives in southern Spain when former US President Donald Trump soured the mood with the tariffs' announcement. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

Former US president Donald Trump’s administration slapped extra tariffs on Spain’s iconic agricultural export in 2018, considering their olives were subsidised and being dumped on the US market at prices below their real value.

The combined rates of the anti-subsidy and anti-dumping duties go as high as 44 percent.

The European Commission, which handles trade policy for the 27 EU states, said the move was unacceptable and turned to the WTO, where a panel of experts was appointed to examine the case.

In Friday’s ruling, the WTO panel agreed with the EU’s argument that the anti-subsidy duties were illegal.

But it did not support its stance that the US anti-dumping duties violated international trade rules.

The panel said it “recommended that the United States bring its measures into conformity with its obligations”.

EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis hailed the ruling, pointing out that the US duties “severely hit Spanish olive producers.”

Demonstrators take part in a 2019 protest in Madrid, called by the olive sector
Demonstrators take part in a 2019 protest in Madrid called by the olive sector to denounce low prices of olive oil and the 25 percent tariff that Spanish olives and olive oil faced in the United States. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)
 

“We now expect the US to take the appropriate steps to implement the WTO ruling, so that exports of ripe olives from Spain to the US can resume under normal conditions,” he said.

The European Commission charges that Spain’s exports of ripe olives to the United States, which previously raked in €67 million ($75.6 million) annually, have shrunk by nearly 60 percent since the duties were imposed.

The office of the US Trade Representative in Washington did not immediately comment on the ruling.

According to WTO rules, the parties have 60 days to file for an appeal.

If the United States does file an appeal though, it would basically amount to a veto of the ruling.

That is because the WTO Appellate Body — also known as the supreme court of world trade — stopped functioning in late 2019 after Washington blocked the appointment of new judges.

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