Malaysia can combat discrimination against its palm oil products by focusing on the UK-Malaysia trade deals. The timing is opportune as the UK is working on new post-Brexit agreements.
London-based leading Brexit economist Keith Boyfield asserted that Malaysia should take advantage of the fact that the UK has left the European Union (EU) and is now working on redefining its trade policies.
“This is where Malaysia should re-strategize, take advantage of Brexit and target the UK for exporting palm oil,” he said.
Aside from lobbying the UK government, he said Malaysia should step up efforts and strive to tackle the new generation in their 20s to 30s. The aim should be to clear the tarnished impression of palm oil. This age groups are highly concerned about biodiversity and environmental sustainability.
“Palm oil is associated with deforestation and orangutan endangerment. Clearly there is a lack of knowledge about the orangutan population and the younger generation care about it.
“One thing about Western media is that if they slam a photo of an orangutan on the front page with a headline, people reacted to it instantly,” Boyfield, who is also the principal of Keith Boyfield Associates, told Bernama in an interview.
Oil palm plantations have been subjected to criticism in the West as academics and the media accuse the commodity, regardless of whether it is certified palm oil or non-certified palm oil, of replacing the habitats of endangered mammals and biodiverse tropical forest.
It was reported that orangutan habitat in Borneo was slashed to more than 80 per cent. Last year, the World Wildlife Fund said the orangutan numbers have stabilised though they remain a concern.
On the other hand, Malaysia claims that articles about declining orangutan populations were merely an anti-palm oil propaganda. In reality, the country is monitoring the orangutan species and preserving the forest through its own wildlife conservation programmes.
Malaysia has been inaccurately associated with deforestation due to the situation in Indonesia. In fact, while Malaysia’s sustainability practice with respect to palm oil has improved over the years, yet the effect on consumers is minimal because the image of the Malaysian palm oil is not differentiated from the situation in Indonesia, Boyfield asserted.
To recap, the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) said until June 30, up to 96.4 per cent of Malaysia’s 4.06 million hectares of oil palm had obtained the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification.
In contrast, the largest palm oil producer in Indonesia is still working on the draft on the regulation implementation for the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) scheme.
The ISPO regulation should have been issued in mid-April but was delayed due to COVID-19 pandemic, an Indonesian newspaper reported.
The MSPO was ranked sixth in the 2017 Forest Peoples Programmes (FPP), accumulating 62 points compared to Indonesia’s ISPO, which positioned the certification scheme at the bottom of the list.
This study compares the world’s principal oil palm sustainability standards by measuring seven certification schemes against a comprehensive set of over 39 social and human rights indicators within six different themes.
These included a minimum wage of workers and an assessment of the treatment of smallholders.
For instance, with respect to the treatment of smallholders, the MSPO scored slightly better in requiring all smallholders to receive training to improve productivity, whereas the ISPO has no requirements at all for smallholder contracts.
The score for smallholder treatments covers smallholders’ access to fair credit, their ability to access markets to sell their fresh fruit bunches (FFB), and whether the standard gives provisions to ensure smallholders are paid fair prices for their FFB.
Significantly, the FPP studies list Roundtable Sustainable Palm Oil as the most comprehensive certification scheme among the world’s principal oil palm sustainability standards, followed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials and Sustainable Agriculture Network, International Sustainability & Carbon Certification, and Singapore’s High Carbon Stock (HCS) approach.