JAKARTA -- Indonesia and Malaysia, which produce more than 80% of the world's palm oil, are resisting proposals by European parliamentarians that could limit their access to the second biggest palm oil market after India.
Government ministers from Malaysia and Indonesia, along with some regional palm oil producers, met in Jakarta on April 11 to plan a response to a resolution approved on April 4 by European parliament members concerning "palm oil and deforestation."
The parliamentarians requested the EU to "introduce a single certification scheme for palm oil entering the EU market and phase out the use of vegetable oils that drive deforestation by 2020."
They hope for an EU-wide ban on biodiesel made from palm oil by 2020, claiming that the expansion of palm oil plantations, mostly in Southeast Asia, is causing "massive forest fires, the drying up of rivers, soil erosion, peatland drainage, the pollution of waterways and overall loss of biodiversity."
Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar called the EU proposals an "insult," while the foreign ministry accused the EU of "protectionism" and of ignoring the rights of millions of Indonesian farmers whose main source of income is from small oil palm plots.
The growth in global demand for palm oil, which is used in a wide array of products from cosmetics and fuel to foods such as margarine and chocolate, has resulted in the massive clearing of forests, particularly in Indonesia, over the last 30 years. The slash and burn methods used on Sumatra and Borneo have led to forest and peatland fires that have enveloped Singapore and parts of Malaysia in a smoky haze that has spread as far as southern Thailand.
Images of orphaned baby elephants and orangutans rescued from cleared forests and plantations have spurred vigorous environmental activism and consumer awareness campaigns in recent years. Species such as the Sumatran elephant have been put on endangered lists, with the ensuing bad publicity forcing governments and palm oil companies to sign up for various national and international certification schemes to guarantee that palm oil products are not causing environmental damage.
But members of the European parliament argue that a single certification scheme is needed. "MEPs note that various voluntary certification schemes promote the sustainable cultivation of palm oil," but "their standards are open to criticism and are confusing for consumers," said a European parliament press release issued on April 4.
Southeast Asian pushback
In response, Indonesia's Agriculture Minister Andi Amran Sulaiman told reporters in Jakarta that "we cannot let Europe dictate Indonesia's agriculture. We have our own standard called Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil."