Angry farmers blocked roads around the nation Friday to protest the government's free-market agriculture policy, halting highway traffic for three hours.

Farmers put up roadblocks in 16 provinces, according to Rural Solidarity, the 423,000-farmer trade union that organized the protest.Polish farmers are smarting from the cuts in subsidies that supported agriculture under Communist rule. They have also been hurt by new competition from better goods of subsidized European Community neighbors.

Farmers want the government to set a minimum price for milk and other basic foods. They are also demanding bank loans at 5 or 6 percent interest. Polish banks now charge 70 to 85 percent interest.

"We hope for some gesture showing that they are ready to listen to us seriously," Jerzy Rey, a spokesman for Rural Solidarity, told the Associated Press.

A deputy agriculture minister, Slawomir Gburczyk, indicated the government is ready to talk about the farmers' demands. "We've been talking with different rural organizations all the time. We never avoid talks," he said. However, he made no specific pledges.

The Polish protests came as President Lech Walesa, on a U.S. tour, made a pitch for American investment in Poland.

In an address to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, Walesa said Friday that his nation wants to be "the America of the East." He said it represents a commercial opportunity comparable to the American West in the 19th century.

In Stojadla, 19 miles east of Warsaw, about 120 farmers gathered Friday in the sunshine around their tractors and trailers that stretched across the Warsaw-Moscow highway. Many flew the red-and-white Polish flag, a hallmark of demonstrations against the old Communist regime.

"All we want is to cover the production costs of the milk," said Andrzej Nalazek, 39, who farms 17 acres just outside the village.

Farmers here said that they were being paid only about 5 cents for a liter of milk that cost 15 cents to produce. Private farmers own more than 75 percent of farmland, but it is often divided into tiny parcels.