The Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) has urged the European Union (EU) not to give in to the usual “lobbies” which suggest palm oil, Malaysia, Indonesia, and their related industries are the culprits when it comes to deforestation.
Chief executive officer Datuk Dr Kalyana Sundram said the solution for deforestation cannot and should not be to target and punish a single commodity as a convenient scapegoat.
“The only viable and sustainable solution must be to provide incentives for the continued and increased production of sustainable products, based on standards of sustainability that are multilaterally or plurilaterally agreed and not unilaterally imposed in ways that, experience shows, all too often end-up hiding or disguising protectionist and discriminatory policies under an ‘environmental blanket’,” he said.
In a statement yesterday, he said MPOC looks with “cooperative spirit” to the EU’s legislative initiative on “Minimising the risk of deforestation and forest degradation associated with products placed on the EU market”.
MPOC is “hoping that the consultative process ahead will ensure that the legislative and regulatory outcomes be balanced, not unilateral, based on measurable science and data, non-discriminatory, and in line with the applicable World Trade Organisation rules,” he said.
Sundram said the agency recognises the ambitious objectives of the European Green Deal and the priorities identified by the European Commission in preserving forests globally.
Of the priorities, MPOC suggested that the EU works in partnership with producer countries to reduce pressures on forests and strengthens international cooperation to halt deforestation and forest degradation.
It also wants the EU to improve the availability and quality of information on forests and commodity supply chains as well as the access to that information, and support research and innovation.
MPOC further reiterates that no unilateral approach and action should be taken, but that the EU ought to cooperatively and genuinely work in partnership with countries like Malaysia, in the many diplomatic, commercial and technical fora available, to define and adopt bilateral, plurilateral or multilateral standards and solutions for sustainable forestry and agricultural production compliance.
“We are looking forward to a constant, transparent, science-based, and frank dialogue with the EU, as this legislative initiative progresses,” Sundram said.
According to him, MPOC agreed with the European Commission’s inception Impact Assessment (IIA) which stated a market and regulatory failure, as reflected in the lack of level playing field between companies that act responsibly towards deforestation and those that do not.
The issue should be addressed by distinguishing among producer countries, as not all palm oil-producing countries have the same regulatory frameworks in place to cultivate and produce responsibly, protect the forests and enforce the rules, he said.
He opined that palm oil is often conveniently targeted and singled out.
Legislative initiatives are increasingly doing this, in addition to private operators that use deceptive and anti-competitive commercial narrative (via labels like “palm oil-free”) to promote their products by indiscriminately denigrating all palm oil.
He said MPOC looks forward to actively and constantly engaging with the EU for purposes of advancing the legislative initiative on minimising the risk of deforestation and forest degradation in a manner that is truly based on international cooperation and a partnership between EU legislators and a key country like Malaysia.
He noted that Malaysia is at the forefront in terms of sustainable forestry policies, sustainable palm oil production and environmental protection.
Such engagements also should not neglect the fundamental role that sustainable forest management, timber and palm oil production plays vis-à-vis its socio-economic development, poverty eradication, and smallholders’ employment and subsistence, he added.
Meanwhile, Sundram also noted that EU policies often focus on a few “trees”, selectively and conveniently chosen, but miss the “forest” as the EU’s IIA does not address deforestation caused by agricultural expansion.
“Malaysia has long recognised and adhered to the preservation of its forests and of ensuring the sustainable cultivation of oil palm and production of palm oil and the country’s forested area in amounts to around 53 per cent of the land area as compared to EU’s forest area that only stood at 39.5 per cent in 2018, despite reforestation efforts by the bloc.
“These trends are important to highlight Malaysia’s commitment is outstanding if projected against the steady decline of the overall global forested area.
This data and these differences must be recognised and factored in when policies are defined and actions are taken.
Simple recipes and generalisations do not work,” Sundram added.
Malaysia has made it compulsory for oil palm cultivators and palm oil producers to be certified under the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil standard.
He said the country is consistently taking action to protect what is not only a precious resource for humanity but its most important asset and comparative advantage, its forests and unique ecosystem