Politics is the key to overcoming the European Union’s (EU) continued opposition to palm oil not scientific facts.
Speaking at the virtual Future-Proofed Palm Oil forum, Khalil Manaf Hegarty, director of policy at ITS Global said the palm oil industries and producing countries must learn from the previous issues faced when the EU introduced the Renewable Energy Directive, which effectively banned palm oil-based biofuels.
He said that even international standards for environmental certification did not meet the directive’s criteria, and even countries with no palm oil deforestation were affected by the de facto ban.
“This is politics, not science, scientific facts alone won’t win the day.”
He said with the EU set to implement further restrictions over environmental issues, companies and producing countries must work together as strategic partners in presenting the Asean region as a key trade partner, and use this leverage to ease restrictions on palm oil.
“What does Malaysia and Asean have that Europe wants? They want new markets for exports and a presence in the western pacific because EU demand has stayed flat.
“They want an agreement with Indonesia, but see an EU-Asean deal as the major prize.”
He said while the palm oil industry cannot stop the EU from enacting new regulations, they could negotiate to have them be less restrictive.
This has proven to be effective in the past, as during discussions at the Asean-EU ministerial meeting earlier this month, palm producers negotiated for the palm working group to include all vegetable oils, sustainable development goals and a holistic approach to the environment in exchange for upgrading the partnership from “dialogue” to “strategic”.
In a September blog post, Josep Borrell, vice president of the European Commission, said that strengthening ties between the two blocs has become an urgent need to speed up economic recovery in the wake of the impact from COVID-19.
“The EU-Asean partnership is no longer a luxury but a necessity,” he said.