Public opinion regarding palm oil in the EU
Focus Malaysia 25 Jul 2018 16:15
In an article published by BERNAMA on 19 July 2018, H.E. Frederic Laplanche, Ambassador of the French Republic to Malaysia, was quoted as saying, “public opinion regarding palm oil in the EU is still negative due to concerns on climate change, environmental protection and biodiversity conservation.” In addition, he suggested that both Malaysia and the EU enhance cooperation by seeking solutions in light of public perception and the negative sentiments surrounding palm oil, due to deforestation issues.
The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) notes the views and concerns of H.E. Laplanche’s on the issue of negative public opinion by EU consumers of palm oil and welcomes any form of collaboration to allay such perceptions in the EU.
We also note that the palm oil industry has consistently been subjected to various anti-palm oil campaigns in the EU not only by Western NGOs but also supported by some elected officials in the EU Parliament. These campaigns consistently aim to discredit oil palm cultivation as associated with deforestation, loss of biodiversity and destruction of critical habitat for endangered species.
Malaysia has always been mindful of these challenges and has applied best practices including environmental impact assessments in establishing and operating its palm oil industry. We have consistently narrated that as a nation we are committed to maintaining at least 50% of our land under forest and green cover and subscribe to the nation-wide production of certified sustainable palm oil through MSPO being made mandatory. Malaysia also embrace the concept of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2030 that balances out social and economic progress with the environment. However, these actions still appear to be inadequate in the eyes of the EU consumers and legislators, who are constantly fed streams of anti-palm oil messages without full verification of the underlying facts and the French Ambassador’s statement simply re-echoes such sentiments.
It is vital to understand that there are many drivers of deforestation and independent studies through the Union of Concerned Scientists show that oil palm is not the major cause of deforestation whereas livestock and soya account for more deforestation than oil palm. Also, in 2017, the total oil palm planted areas in Malaysia was 5.81 million hectares, which accounts for only 0.11% of the total global agricultural area, a negligible number compared to other vegetable oils and the livestock industry. At the same time, the growth rate of oil palm planted areas has declined to 1.48% in recent years and is expected to reach a maximum of 6 million hectares by 2020. Let us remind the EU that they are also a major producer of rapeseed with a total land use of 6.8 million hectares, which is much larger than the entire Malaysian oil palm plantations at 5.81 million hectares, and also not to mention the EU’s forest cover which is a mere 33.7% of their total land area. This is a far cry from the vast 55% forest cover that Malaysia lays claims to and verified by the FAO and other forest authorities.
We would certainly welcome the French Ambassador to work with us and help create a larger platform to rebalance the negative narration around palm oil in the EU. For example there are emotional outbursts around orang utan even when Malaysia has shown remarkable success in stabilizing its orang utan population through various conservation efforts on the ground. We have seen no visible contribution from countries and parties that have raised concerns to further assist us, the exception being a recent pledge from the Orang Utan Appeal, UK to support our efforts through a contribution of RM1.0 million and provision of conservation experts to work with our Malaysian teams. Such gestures go a long way rather than the continuous drumming to discredit our efforts in promoting sustainable development of the palm oil industry.
It is undoubted that in Europe itself, the EU Parliamentarians and even individual EU nation leaders could be better informed about palm oil. We would like to request the Ambassador and indeed the entire EU diplomatic community in Malaysia to continue to work with our teams to better inform the detractors of the palm oil industry. Also Malaysia is open and willing to collaborate with our friends in Europe, to create greater consumer awareness on the sustainable palm oil production and the health benefits of palm oil.
In today’s reality, international trade is nuanced and complex, and any trade resolutions should take this into account and be done with thorough consideration after input from all parties. As such, a better cooperation between Malaysia and the EU over the issue of palm oil production may reap greater benefits in the long-term for all parties involved. Malaysia believes the best solution would be to work together to promote inclusive growth.
As French president Emmanuel Macron once said, “A trade war is always a war lost by all”.