More fishy tales

As relatives gather to celebrate Chinese New Year, topics of ... new-born babies, health of new mothers, death of elderly folks, career changes, new boyfriends and girlfriends brought into the family ... are usually raised.

A few distant relatives of mine had just given birth to big, bouncy babies. 

As usual, the elders will dish out advice of special diet that promotes wound-healing during the month following childbirth.

The snakehead fish (“sang yue” in Cantonese, haruan in Malay language) is believed to have wound-healing properties. 

The elders specifically “prescribed” sang yue for women who had just given birth or anyone who has had to endure open wound surgery.  

A quick search on some scientific papers on the Internet revealed sang yue contains high levels of essential amino acids and a good profile of fatty acids that improves tissue growth and speed up wound-healing. Wow!

As the conversation among the elders get more intense, they 'drill into me' that sang yue can be stir-fried, cooked with porridge or double-boiled into nutritional soup. 

Since I'm the only journalist in the extended family, I was tasked to 'put it down in record'. I was lazy to take notes or even use my smartphone to video-record. So, I willed myself to remember as much as I can. Ha! Ha!

In making this nutritional soup, the elders said sang yue is sliced into fillet and double-boiled with herbs. A dash of palm cooking oil helps bring out the flavour and fragrance of the ingredients. 

The time-consuming double-boiling process is necessary to distill the fish's medicinal properties. Mmm ... the sang yue soup is delicious to the very last spoonful!

The elders noted sang yue tastes just as good when stir-fried. The best cooking oil that is heat stable to stir-fry is the affordable and yet nutritious palm oil. 

the sang yue are stir-fried in quick, high heat (in Cantonese, it is known as wok hei), these fillet become tender and succulent. The ginger and spring onion garnishing enhances the freshness of the fillet.

Lo Hei! Lo Hei!

The raw fish salad is a 'unity forging' appetizer eaten together in big groups during Chinese New Year. The higher its freshly prepared ingredients are tossed in the air with chopsticks, the better your luck! 

Yu sheng (鱼生) sounds like the Chinese word “abundance” and eating it is considered a symbol of prosperity and vigour. When the yu sheng is served on the table, New Year greetings like gong xi fa cai (恭喜发财) meaning “congratulations for your wealth” and wan shi ru yi (万事如意) “may all your wishes be fulfilled” are offered. 

Since Malaysia is multi-cultural, restaurants are serving yu sheng with the gustatory traits of Thai, Japanese, Indian and Peranakan cuisines. Halal and vegetarian versions are also available to meet any diner’s requirements.

In welcoming good luck and blessings, here's a 10-step guide to Lo Hei:- 

1. Add the fish, usually thinly sliced local snakehead fish (in Cantonese, it is called sang yue) or if you like, salmon. Nian nian yu yue (年年有余) means “abundance year after year”, as the word “fish” in Mandarin also sounds like “abundance”.

2. Add the pomelo pulp, which symbolises adding luck and auspicious value. Da ji da li (大吉大利) means “good luck and smooth sailing”.

3. Add a dash of pepper, which symbolises the hope of attracting more money and valuables. Zhao cai jin bao (招财进宝) means to “attract wealth and treasures”.

4. Pour the palm cooking oil, circling the ingredients to encourage money to flow in from all directions. Yi ben wan li (一本万利) means “Make 10,000 times of profit with your capital”. Cai yuan guang jin (财源广进) means “numerous sources of wealth”.

5. Add the carrots, which indicate blessings of good luck. Hong yun dang tou (鸿运当头) means “good luck is approaching”.

6. Add the shredded green radish, which symbolises eternal youth. Qing chun chang zhu (青春常驻) means “forever young”.

7. Add the shredded white radish, which symbolises prosperity in business and promotion at work. Feng sheng shui qi (风生水起) means “progress at a fast pace” and bu bu gao sheng (步步高升) means “reaching a higher level with each step”.

8. Add chopped peanuts and sesame seeds, which symbolises flourishing business. Sheng yi xing long (生意兴隆) means “prosperity for the business”.

9. Add the plum sauce, generously drizzle over the entire dish. Tian tian mi mi (甜甜蜜蜜) means “may life always be sweet”.

10. Add deep-fried flour crisps, which come in the shape of golden pillows and symbolises a floor filled with gold. Man di huang jin (满地黄金) means “floor full of gold”.

“Nian Nian Yu Yue”

Fish signifies 'nian nian yu yue' in mandarin. It brings about positive sentiment of yearly abundance and prosperity. The steam fish is a must-have and the central dish for Chinese New Year. 

The different Chinese dialect groups steam their fish in different ways. 

The Teochews will steamed their fish with preserved mustard, sour plum, tomatoes and scallions; the Cantonese prefer their fish quite simply with soy sauce, a pinch of rock sugar, garnished with sliced ginger; the Hakka use pickled mustard greens that infuse the fish with a briny flavour. 

Below is the recipe for the Cantonese style of steamed fish.

Steamed White Pomfret

1 medium-sized white pomfret
1-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1/2 tsp salt and dash of white pepper
3 tbsps soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsps hot water
1 tsp sesame
1 tbsp palm cooking oil
dash of white pepper
coriander, scallion and spring onions for garnishing


1) Remove gills from fish, rinse well and pat dry with kitchen paper towels. Place it in a heatproof deep dish.

2) Marinate fish with the teaspoon of salt, few shakes of pepper and a dash of sesame oil.

3) Arrange the ginger slices and scallion on top and below fish.

4) Heat up 1 tbsp palm cooking oil in the wok, stir in the oyster and soy sauce. Pour the heated soy sauce over the fish. 

5) Bring water to boil over high heat in a steamer, and place the fish inside for 15 minutes. By now, you should see the eyes of fish are all popped out and the fins should be open. 

6) Lift the fish from the steamer. Garnish before serving immediately.

Serves 8 people

Palm oil can help minimise cancer risks

This is written by my colleague Zaidi Isham Ismail.

BUKIT JALIL, Selangor: IN the past few decades, cancer has fast become a dreaded disease that threatens human lives. However, a number of treatment approaches to prevent it at an early stage are also gaining momentum.

One of the preventive approaches, which has been tested in many cancer models, is through the use of palm-based Vitamin E tocotrienols.

There are two forms of vitamin E — tocotrienols and tocopherols. They exist naturally in vegetable oils.

Palm oil is a rich source of tocotrienols and tocopherols — 70 per cent of the vitamin E in palm oil is tocotrienols while the remaining 30 per cent is tocopherols.

In addition to the supervitamin E variant called tocotrienols, palm oil is also rich in other phytonutrients.

International Medical University Malaysia (IMU) immunologist Professor Ammu K. Radhakrishnan said joint research on the benefits of palm tocotrienols in cancer prevention carried out by the university in the past 15 years have yielded encouraging results.

“We have carried out research on the palm oil-based tocotrienols in the past 15 years and our studies have revealed that palm tocotrienols could reduce risks of deadly cancer activities.

“Palm tocotrienols have anti-cancer properties and we are currently looking at how this vitamin boost our natural defense system and fight infections, as well as its response during the healing process,” said Ammu.

She added that scientists are looking at how tocotrienols stimulate the immune system to fight cancer as they are more potent than tocopherols and appear to be able to boost the immune system and keep the balance.

Ammu said there is a misconception that cancer comes from external sources when, in fact, it starts when one’s body cells fail to regulate growth and become abnormal or “rogue”.

Cancer cells also require nutrients and other substances to grow and sustain their growth. For this, the cells will secrete chemicals that promote new blood vessels.

Palm tocotrienols seem to be able to inhibit the growth of new blood vessels. So,this is seen to be one of the mechanisms being used to fight cancer.

According to Ammu, studies using experimental models involving laboratory mice have shown palm-based tocotrienols are able to kill cancer cells and enhance their immune system.

A 2011 clinical trial involving 120 humans showed palm-based vitamin E is very effective in boosting immune in response to a vaccine.

Tocotrienols have other beneficial health effects such as anti-diabetic, cardioprotection, hypocholesterolemic, anti-oxidant, neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory.

Ammu highlighted that tocotrienols, extracted from palm oil is able to minimise risks of chronic cancer, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes.

She went on to advise that prevention is better than cure. One should lead a healthy lifestyle by not smoking cigarettes, eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly.

According to Ammu, palm oil is fast gaining traction among medical practitioners in the fight against cancer.

“The research is still ongoing and we have to see how to disseminate all these beneficial findings to the public,” she added.

More workers needed to harvest oil palm fruits

KUALA LUMPUR: Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (Soppoa) reiterated the industry’s need for more workers to harvest oil palm fruits at the fields.

Soppoa estimated that millions of tonnes of fruit bunches are wasted in the fields as planters lack manpower to harvest them. 

It had estimate for harvest 17.5 million tonnes of oil palm fruit bunches or 3.5 million tonnes of crude palm oil this year.

Assuming there is a 15 per cent wastage or loss of 500,000 tonnes of crude palm oil, that works out to 2.5 million tonnes of fruit bunches left rotting across Sarawak's oil palm fields. 

At a conservative pricing of RM2,200 per tonne, it translates into at least RM1.1 billion loss in export opportunity.

"There is little alternative but to seek hiring of foreign workers," said Soppoa chairman, Paul Wong, in a telephone interview from Miri yesterday.

Wong expressed gratitude for Sarawak government’s plan to bring in 12,000 Bangladeshi workers for the state’s plantation sector.

He also highlighted that many Native Customary Reserve landowners are starting their own estates and they in turn look for workers to help out.

Sarawak’s mega projects at Similaju Industrial Park, the oil and gas industry and others are also attracting locals to work there, which substantially reduces the number of Malaysian manpower.

Hence, plantation firms have no choice but to turn to hire foreign hands to overcome labour shortage, he said. 

"When we hire foreign workers from either Indonesia or Bangladesh, the companies must fulfill various conditions including placing advertisements in radio, print media and with the Labor Department Sarawak, and to undertake commitments for proper housing, bank guarantees and other labor law requirements stipulated for engaging these workers.

"We have no choice. All these obligations in hiring foreign workers, including levies and other incidental recruitment add costs for companies involved in hiring foreign workers," he said.

All this while, oil palm planters have been paying minimum wages, cooking oil cess, research and marketing cess, sales taxes to Sarawak governments, on top of the usual corporate tax and foreign worker levies.

As the highest taxpayers on a sectorial capita basis, Wong said it is timely that due recognition be given to oil palm planters' critical contribution to Malaysia's economy. 

"The palm oil industry forms the backbone of Malaysia's economy. We earn US$20 billion per year in palm oil exports. Facilitative support in the right direction is very much needed to value add this industry," Wong said.

FERRERO ROCHER & Tic Tac patriach dies

ROME, Italy: Michele Ferrero, Italy's richest man and the owner of a global chocolate and confectionery empire, died yesterday aged 89, the company said.

His death opens the question of succession and potential tie-ups at the family-controlled Ferrero group, which has sales of around €8 billion and continued to grow through Italy's longest recession since World War 2.

Ferrero dreamt up the chocolate-hazelnut Nutella spread, Ferrero Rocher pralines, Kinder eggs and Tic Tac sweets, turning a provincial chocolate factory into what is widely seen as Italy's most valuable privately-owned company.

The billionaire died at home in Monaco after months of illness, the group said in a statement.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella said he was deeply touched by Ferrero's death, calling him a "born entrepreneur".

Twitter was flooded with messages from people who thanked Ferrero for "sweetening up" their lives.

Ferrero's son Giovanni became chief executive of the chocolate empire after his older brother Pietro, the chosen heir, died of a heart attack in 2011 while cycling in South Africa.

In late 2013, Giovanni denied suggestions that the company had been approached by the Swiss-based multinational Nestle, saying Ferrero was not for sale. 

But industry insiders say he is less interested than his brother was in running the company.

Ferrero senior was a man of few words who shunned publicity, turning a local business from the Piedmont region into a global giant. 

He had a reputation as a forceful leader but also as one who maintained generous working conditions and gave back to his community. Ferrero's motto was "work, create, donate."

Usually seen in public in dark glasses Michele Ferrero is reputedly a devout Catholic who has infused the group with a strong sense of social responsibility.

In 1996, he was unexpectedly ambushed by a TV crew. When asked, "What was the secret of Ferrero's success?" he humbly replied, without slowing his walking away pace: "Our Lady of Lourdes".

Until a few years ago, Ferrero commuted by helicopter every day from his Monte Carlo villa to company headquarters in Alba, northwest Italy, to taste and help design new products.

He never let outsiders buy into the company, which his father set up in 1946. 

The group, which toyed with the idea of making a bid for its British rival Cadbury a few years ago, is present in 53 countries.

Ferrero Group is the world's fifth-largest confectionery company by revenue after Mars, Mondelez International (formerly known as Kraft Foods), Nestle and Meiji.

Forbes magazine described Ferrero as "the richest candyman on the planet", putting him and his family in 30th place on their list of the world's wealthiest people, with a net worth of US$23.4 billion. 

Three years ago, in 2012, French Senator Daudigny had proposed a tax increase on palm oil from €100 to €400 per metric tonne. 

At 20 per cent, palm oil is one of Nutella's main ingredients and the tax was dubbed "the Nutella tax" in the media.

Nutella, a bestseller of Ferrero Group's confectionery offerings, is a very popular chocolate spread and a breakfast staple in Europe. 

Nutella's main ingredients are sugar and palm oil, followed by hazelnut, cocoa solids, and skimmed milk.

In response to this proposed draconian and discriminatory tax, Ferrero Group, the maker of Nutella said, it will not change the recipe even if France, its biggest market, endorses proposals to quadruple the tax on palm oil.

Frederic Thil, French director for Ferrero, the Italian company that makes the spread, told Le Parisien: "The arguments are unfair and the repercussions would be catastrophic."

He strongly emphasised Ferrero would do all it could to limit the hit from any tax rise for consumers.

Nutella's website says that it supports responsible palm oil use, only using palm oil which is harvested and processed from eco-friendly oil palm plantations in Malaysia.

French people consume an average of 2kg of palm oil a year and the country as a whole 126,000 tonnes. 

After much debate, the French Senate rejected the Nutella Tax. If the tax had been adopted then, it would have added €40 million a year to France's state health insurance pot.

Smear campaign hits home ground

THE Australian "Don't Palm Us Off" smear campaign against the palm oil industry has hit Malaysia in its homeground. Palm oil industry leaders are enraged and seeks remedial action. OOI TEE CHING writes.

Palm Oil Refiners Association of Malaysia (Poram) chairman Wan Mohd Zain Wan Ismail looked dejectedly at photographs of carpet cleaning spray solutions sold at local supermarkets. 

The products' front labelling had stickers with orangutan icons appealing for “Palm Oil Free” products. 

He shook his head. “In the world of vegetable oils trade war, this reputation attack in our frontyard is uncalled for and totally out of line," he told Business Times in an interview.

Last year, in Singapore, this same supermarket chain had also prominently displayed "Palm Oil Free" signages for an infant milk manufacturer.

"You don’t go around smearing other people’s image to unscrupulously grab market share and curb market access. The spreading of twisted half truths and lies about oil palm cultivation is hurting our reputation, our business and our livelihoods," he said. 

Wan Zain held up the carpet cleaning spray solution with on-the-front 'Palm Oil Free' labelling. "The importer and the retailers of this product with negative labelling are equally guilty. 

"Action must be taken against these defamatory acts that are hurting our oil palm industry's image and the livelihoods of many people along the palm oil's sprawling value chain," he said. 

"The culprits must be taken to task for hurting and discrediting our national economic security crop. The palm oil industry forms the backbone of Malaysia's economy. We earn US$20 billion per year in palm oil exports," he said.

"The public is being misled into believing that oil palm cultivation is being carried out at the expense of wildlife when in reality, the oil palm is the world's most sustainable oil crop," said Incorporated Society of Planters (ISP) chief executive officer Azizan Abdullah, in a separate interview.

Unknown to many, Azizan said oil palm planters have, for the past decade, established the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund (MPOWCF) that is contributing to wildlife conservation and research.

Azizan said these defamatory campaigns against the palm oil industry are very much fuelled by trade politics of soyabean and rapeseed producers in the western world.

Wan Zain concurred, saying that it is not a coincidence that defamatory campaigns on palm oil originate from rival oil-producing continents which have lost global market share to palm oil, as Malaysia and Indonesia expanded their oil palm plantings. 

Malaysia and Indonesia, which contribute 85 per cent of global palm oil output, produce around 20 million tonnes and 33 million tonnes, respectively.

This year, global palm oil output is expected to total 63 million tonnes while soya and rapeseed oils are anticipated to touch 47 million tonnes and 27 million tonnes, respectively. 

In the 15-year period to 2015, Oil World and other authoritative statistics show global palm oil output expanded two times faster than soya and rapeseed oils. As global palm oil usage increased over the years, so did trade rivalry. Hence, the coveted smear campaigns on the oil palm industry.

According to the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre, Australia is the world’s second-largest rapeseed exporter, shipping 2.12 million tonnes a year, mostly to the European Union (EU).

"Australia's No.1 rapeseed client is the EU. It is not a coincidence that the Australia's "Don't Palm Us Off" orangutan campaign is similar to “No Palm Oil” labelling in France and Belgium," Wan Zain said. 

Since December 13 2014, the European Union Food Information for Consumers Regulation had mandated specification of vegetable oils (i.e. palm, rapeseed, sunflower, soya) on the ingredient list. 

But food firms had also inserted “No Palm Oil” on the labels, which falsely insinuates palm oil is bad and needs to be avoided. 

In Europe, these discriminatory labels are being promoted by chocolate maker Galler and supermarket chain Delhaize. 

“Since there is no scientific proof that palm oil is bad for health, it is deceptive and malicious for these food manufacturers to go on using the ‘No Palm Oil’ labels,” he said.

These insidious smear campaigns on palm oil has one clear objective, which is to kill the growth of oil palm plantings and reduce palm oil consumption in the global market.

As more and more defamatory campaigns such as the “Palm Oil Free” and "No Palm Oil" labelling on food and cleaning products tarnish the image of the palm oil industry, Wan Zain said exporters from Malaysia and Indonesia are denied equal opportunities to trade.

"We must stand up for our rights to equal opportunities to trade. We must fight on to dismantle trade barriers which have manifested into many facets," he said, adding the bigger the palm oil industry grows, the easier it becomes an unfortunate target.

Fruitful yield from designer seeds

In the last five decades, mechanisation of oil palm fruit harvesting remained largely unsuccessful. As a result, the industry had been working on the trees - to make them easier to harvest and to have more oil. OOI TEE CHING interviews a tree whisperer and an industry veteran.

Malaysia is the world's second largest palm oil producer after Indonesia and the latest data reveal a worrying trend; since 2010, palm oil output growth is stagnating at 2 per cent.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Board predicts that this year, the country's palm oil output will continue to expand by 2 per cent to 20.1 million tonnes.

Assuming this amount of oil is gathered across 5.5 million hectares, this year's yield will only total 3.7 tonnes per hectare in a year. Many planters say this is due to shortage of harvesters.

While the search for the best mechanisation system continues, Malaysian crop scientists are making some headway in raising tree productivity.

In the past, as oil palm trees grew taller and taller, planters use very long poles to harvest the fruit bunches. This got many crop scientists thinking. Why not breed shorter palms that bear very big fruit bunches?

So in the 1960s, crop scientists introduced the hybrid called the Dura X Pisifera (DXP) as the standard planting material. 

As time goes by, many in the industry affectionately referred the DXP hybrid as "the Dolly Parton type." Like its namesake, these trees are very short and yields voluptuous fruit bunches.

In the 1980s, some tree breeders realised that one of the problems of big bunches is that the inner fruitlets do not have space to develop fully. In smaller bunches, however, the inner fruitlets have a greater chance to develop and ripen more evenly. Therefore, for the same weight, smaller bunches yield more oil.

This is when, Applied Agricultural Resources Sdn Bhd (AAR), an equal joint venture between Boustead Holdings Bhd and Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd (KLK), made a conscious decision to breed trees that are of dwarf stature for easy harvesting and high oil yield in the fruit bunches.

AAR is one of the 10 licensed seed producers in the country, contributing to the replanting of unproductive trees so as to raise the national oil palm yield. Indeed, the oil palm sector, as one of the biggest foreign exchange earners for Malaysia, is one that is heavily invested with research money. 

According to MPOB, some 50 million germinated seeds are planted by farmers every year. Most of the replanting of old trees have been carried out in Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia while new plantings are undertaken in Sarawak.

At AAR, plant breeder Wong Choo Kien and his team diligently work on thousands of mother palms to perfect Malaysia's top cash crop with the latest breeding know-how. He always advise planters to buy and plant designer seeds so that they are assured of high oil yielding oil palms.

Just like how mobile phone manufacturers come up with better versions, Wong said every batch of seeds produced by tree breeders is an improved version of the earlier.

He explained that seed selection is crucial in oil palm planting because those who use seeds gathered from existing estates suffer from low yields no matter how many bags of fertiliser are applied to the trees.

The next set of trees are those that could significantly improve the industry further. Not only are these trees easier to harvest, they will also yield 20 per cent more oil from the current batch.

Wong confirmed the AA Hybrida II is slated for introduction to parent companies Boustead Plantations and KLK Group in the middle of this year.

His team is using the semi-clonal strategy to step up seed production while maintaining key qualities like the dwarf stature of the tree and high oil yield in the fruit bunches. "Our semi-clonal seed production technology ensures clients get consistent quality in every seed they buy from AAR," he said.

AAR is selling these designer seeds at RM2.70 each, a premium to the price of the average Dolly Parton variant. 

In delivering the designer seeds, AAR goes the extra mile to ensure seedlings' authenticity by using a new laser tattooing technology and pre-agreed codes with its clients. 

At prime fruit-bearing age, AAR's semi-clonal planting materials, grown under good management and environment, are capable of producing more than 30 tonnes of fresh fruit bunches with over 23 per cent oil extraction rate. 

That works out to be about seven tonnes of oil per hectare in a year, almost two times higher than the country's average yield.

During a tour around the Paloh seed garden in Johor recently, planters witnessed firsthand how AAR scientists match-make oil palm trees, working daily to perfect Malaysia's top cash crop with the latest breeding technology. Seed buyers are coming from as far as Sri Lanka.

Just as Wong ushered the crowd to a mother palm, a research assistant propeled himself up the tree by stepping on a fish-bone ladder resting on its trunk. He hoisted and straddled himself unto one of the palm fronds with a safety harness fastened to another frond.

He proceeded to slip a terylene bag over a flowering bunch, sealed it tightly with a double knot and hand puffed the desired male pollens into the bag. Wong said, "The bag cover prevents weevils from reaching the nice-smelling female flowers and accidentally pollinating it with other male pollens we do not want."

In a separate interview, Boustead Plantations chief operating officer Chow Kok Choy expressed the need to produce more food on the same piece of land in response to a growing world population.

He said, "we can meet the future of the world's cooking oil needs by developing better oil palm seeds and planting methods. These are all linked to sustainable agriculture." 

Chow highlighted the AAR dwarf planting materials meant that more trees can be planted on the same plot of land. It allows for a higher density of 160 trees in one hectare compared with the current standard of 136.

High density planting and usage of semi-clonal materials will enable AAR's parents Boustead and KLK to get better oil yields -- consistently.

“Todate, we have 14,000ha planted with ramets, semi-clonal and high density planting materials. With more optimal fertiliser application, these super-trees can help raise yields at our estates to that above the industry average of 20.62 per cent,” Chow said.

A single time-zone for ASEAN?

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak (far right) having a chat with the New Straits Times managing editor (business/lifestyle) Mustapha Kamil Mohd Janor (far left) at the 45th edition of the World Economic Forum (WEF) held annually in Davos, Switzerland. 

The WEF is where key policy makers, international political leaders, captains of industries, carefully chosen intellectuals, society leaders as well journalists converge. 

As the chair of ASEAN, Malaysia took the opportunity to raise ASEAN's profile at the WEF.

Malaysia brought ASEAN issues to the fore on the second day of meetings, including exploring the possibility of a single time zone throughout the region.

Currently, ASEAN's 10 nations' time ranges from +6.30 GMT (Myanmar) to +8.00 GMT (Eastern Indonesia). 

In a panel session on ASEAN, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar said he communicated Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's desire to see closer cooperation among member states as this is an important year of which ASEAN wants to turn itself into a single community.

Wahid was representing Najib who had to leave proceedings at the WEF yesterday to attend the funeral of Saudi Arabian monarch, King Abdullah Abdulaziz in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

He said among others ASEAN needs to hasten integration of the regional banking system. Last year, Indonesian central bank Bank Indonesia and Bank Negara Malaysia signed a heads of agreement for establishment of an ASEAN banking framework, which ultimately would enable banks in southeast Asia to venture into new markets within the region.

"This is important as banks has an important role to play in facilitating intra-Asean investments," Wahid said.

The discussions also touched on efforts to ensure whatever economic progress charted by ASEAN would be felt by the people, in line with Najib's people-centered economic agenda, Wahid said.

FCPO market set to be more vibrant

KUALA LUMPUR: Traders in the US can now directly access Bursa Malaysia via the CME GLOBEX® to buy and sell the increasingly influential contract called the crude palm oil futures.

Yesterday, the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) had granted registration as a Foreign Board of Trade (FBOT) to Bursa Malaysia's unit Bursa Malaysia Derivatives.

In a statement yesterday, Bursa Malaysia said the approval was pursuant to Section 4(b)(1) of the Commodity Exchange Act and Part 48 of the CFTC’s regulations. 

 "This timely move paves way for market opening and added vibrancy through enhanced market access and time-to-market. This will further boost trading and liquidity in our market," said Bursa Malaysia chief executive officer Datuk Tajuddin Atan.  

"The benefits of Direct Market Access (DMA) will certainly be an incentive to draw US traders especially since Malaysia is the global marketplace for palm oil derivatives and the global benchmark for palm oil namely the Malaysian-ringgit denominated Crude Palm Oil Futures (FCPO),” he added.

Also present at the Washington D.C. meeting were Bursa Malaysia Derivatives senior executive vice president of business development & marketing K. Sree Kumar and the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission chairman Mr. Timothy G. Massad.

BMD provides, operates and maintains a futures and options exchange and clearing house. 

In 2014, BMD charted an impressive growth with total volume traded growing by 17 per cent to above 50,000 contracts compared to the volume in 2013 of 43,490. 

Tajuddin highlighted that last year, the FCPO hit an all time record of 10.1 million contracts. This was a significant 27 per cent growth from 2013's eight million-odd contracts. 

Following the US authority's approval, BMD may now permit identified members and other participants located in the US to enter trades directly into its electronic order entry and trade matching system on CME GLOBEX® to trade BMD products.

CME Group owns 25 per cent of BMD. CME Group chief executive officer Phupinder Gill noted this strategic partnership has paved the way for the internationalisation of BMD through the migration of its products onto the CME GLOBEX® trading platform. 

Securities Commission chairman Datuk Ranjit Ajit Singh noted this milestone development reinforces the strong regulatory collaboration between Malaysia and the US at both the bilateral and global levels.

What didn't kill you, made you stronger

Since last month, many parts of Malaysia were inundated with unusually massive floods. Many lives were lost. Children were suddenly orphaned. 

The floods had caused much sufferings and damage in the east coast state of Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang. 

Residents at low-lying areas of northern states of Kedah and Perak were not spared either.

Now that people in Peninsular Malaysia are coming to grips with rebuilding efforts after the floods, Sabah and Sarawak are having to face unusually heavy rains and floods.

In such trying times, let us do whatever we can to try and make things better for our common interests.

Seeking industry feedback

KUALA LUMPUR: Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas said his ministry will review the initiatives under the Entry Point Projects (EPPs) introduce new measures to assist the oil palm upstream and downstream sectors. 

"A lab has been scheduled from January 26 to Feb 13, this year, to review the progress and identify new EPPs and it is hoped that some new and bold initiatives will be generated from this lab," he said in his speech, read by the secretary-general Datuk Himmat Singh.

Uggah reiterated the government is committed and will intensify efforts to achieve the RM178 billion Gross National Income Contribution by 2020.

Himmat was speaking at a seminar organised by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) on the industry's economic outlook for 2015, here, yesterday.

Also present was MPOB chairman Datuk Ar Wan Khair-il Anuar Wan Ahmad. He said he is confident that the CPO market will continue to firm up due to shortfall of supply occuring from the flood situation throughout the country at this moment.

Yesterday, the third-month benchmark for crude palm oil contract on Bursa Malaysia Derivatives Exchange slid RM3 to close at RM2,309 a tonne.

Indonesian Palm Oil Association or Gabungan Pengusaha Kelapa Sawit Indonesia (GAPKI) executive director Dr Fadhil Hasan, who spoke at the seminar, noted palm oil prices should fare a little better in the range of US$700 to US$750 CIF Rotterdam as palm oil consuming countries start to re-stock.

On palm oil exports, Fadhil highlighted "black campaigns" against the palm oil industry has manifested into trade barriers and made it very challenging for traders to secure higher prices in the global market.

Industry veterans have voiced out that the negative campaigns on palm oil has one clear objective, which is to kill the growth of oil palm planting and reduce consumption in the global market.

Fadhil concurred that palm oil exporters are denied equal opportunities to trade, adding the black campaigns harm farmers’ livelihoods while traders face oppression and discrimination in market access.

Oil palm planting and palm oil exports provide developing nations a path out of poverty. The growing of oil palms, the world’s most-efficient oil crop, is helping the people of Malaysia and Indonesia to improve their standard of living. 

Indonesia and Malaysia supply affordable and nutritious cooking oil and margarine to billions of people in developing nations like China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Vietnam. 

According to Oil World trade journal, Malaysia and Indonesia are expected to export the bulk of the 62 million tonnes of palm oil traded worldwide this year. 

"Indonesia is expected to produce 32.5 million tonnes of palm oil this year. Together with Malaysia, we'll continue to supply 85 per cent of the world's palm oil," Fadhil said.

In the last five years, Malaysia earned as much as US$20 billion a year from palm oil exports. 

This year, Fadhil said Indonesia is forecast to earn around US$17 billion in palm oil exports, provided palm oil prices trade above US$700 per tonne.

Meanwhile, on the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), Sime Darby Plantation chief financial officer Renaka Ramachandran said the palm oil sector is expected to remain competitive as no GST is imposed on palm oil exports. 

“Producers can also claim back GST paid on their inputs of production processes of palm oil products,” she said.  

"No Palm Oil" labels misleading

PETALING JAYA: THE defamatory campaign of “No Palm Oil” or “Palm Oil Free” on food labels in Europe is hurting oil palm planters' livelihoods and denying palm oil exporters equal opportunities to trade.

Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) chief executive officer Tan Sri Yusof Basiron said the plam oil industry has no problem complying with the European Union Food Information for Consumers Regulation.

In fact, he said the palm oil industry is proud to supply European companies and consumers with nutritious and responsibly produced palm oil.

“The problem lies in the "No Palm Oil" defamatory insinnuation on the front-of-pack food labels," he said.

In an interview with Business Times yesterday, Yusof explained that the spread of negative message on the front-of-pack food labels is misleading the public into believing that saturated fats in palm oil are bad when in reality they are necessary in a balanced diet.

Since 13th December 2014, the European Union Food Information for Consumers Regulation mandated specification of vegetable oils (i.e. palm, rapeseed, sunflower, soya) on the ingredient list.  

However, food firms had also inserted “No Palm Oil” on the labels, which falsely insinuates palm oil is bad and needs to be avoided.

In Europe, these discriminatory labels are being promoted by chocolate maker Galler and supermarket chain Delhaize, Limagrain and Casino.

Palm oil contains a higher percentage of saturated fats compared with soft oils such as olive, soya, rapeseed and sunflower. At the same time, half of palm oil is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated — known to increase good cholesterol and benefit the cardiovascular system.

Since the 1980s until now, Yusof said there had been studies proving the hydrogenation of liquid oil into spreadable margarine is the real trigger in raising risks of cardiovascular diseases.

“The truth is, palm oil does not contain cholesterol, and saturated fats are a necessity in our daily diet. The real villains in cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are the artificial trans fats brought on by hydrogenation of soft oils to make margarine.”

He said there are more than 150 studies proving that tocotrienols, vitamin E variants in palm oil, lower bad cholesterol.

"Food labelling in Europe should be highlighting the facts about palm oil. But what we see is rogue labelling, which are not provided for under the European Union Food Information for Consumers Regulation. 

"These labels do not correctly inform the consumers. In fact, they unfairly defame palm oil and confuse consumers,” Yusof said. 

Following the deadline of 13th December 2014, Yusof said oil palm planters had expected the governments of France and Belgium to stop these misleading and defamatory labels.

"The oil palm is Malaysia’s economic security crop,” Yusof said, in reference to the country’s annual US$20 billion palm oil exports which support some two million jobs and livelihoods along the sprawling value chain.  

"The least the oil palm planters of developing nations can expect from the French and Belgian governments is to stop these misleading front-of-pack labels and responsibly enforce integrity of information to consumers and businesses," he said.

Yusof noted the 2015 rollout of the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) standard reassures the public-at-large that Malaysian palm oil is being produced on the balanced needs of People, Planet and Profits. 

The MSPO, which is driven by the government of Malaysia, gives testament that the industry provide decent jobs and income growth to oil palm planters, including for 300,000 small farmers, while maintaining commitments to environmental protection and sustainable returns to investors.

Yusof said MPOC will press on to raise public awareness in Europe on the facts of palm oil nutrition and oil palm cultivation.

Sarawak CPO output to grow 5%

MIRI: SARAWAK expects five per cent output growth to 3.6 million tonnes of crude palm oil (CPO) this year, as more oil palms mature and bear more fruits.

Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners' Association (Soppoa) chairman Paul Wong said members should be able to harvest and squeeze out five per cent more than last year's 3.44 million tonnes. 

Currently, more than 1.2 million hectares are planted with oil palms, spreading from Tanjong Datu to Limbang.

"This covers practically the length and breathe of Sarawak, of which about 10 per cent of the planted area is owned by 17,578 smallholder families," Wong told Business Times in a telephone interview yesterday.

The palm oil industry is one of the most stringently governed industries in Malaysia. It comes under the purview of the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) from planting, harvesting and export of palm oil. 

In addition to this, planters there adhere to land codes and laws administered by Sarawak's Ministry of Land Development. 

Palm oil produced in Sarawak is traceable from the mills to the fresh fruit suppliers as majority of these are from estates of the mills’ companies which adopt Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) in their operations. 

Smallholders who sell fresh fruits bunches to the mills, also adopt GAP as part of their responsibilities to ensure that the entire supply chain is traceable.

From 2000 to 2015, SOPPOA estimates investments in estates, mills, refineries and other related activities to surpass RM25 billion.

“Many assume that the palm oil industry is just confined to farmers. But it is more than that,” Wong said. Bankers, insurance companies, freight forwarders, cargo surveyors, scientists and engineers are also part of the palm oil supply chain, he said.

Malaysia's sprawling palm oil industry is also employing more talents, Wong added.

The sector entails production of margarine, cooking oil, oleochemicals, transport and storage of palm oil at the ports, palm oil futures trading at brokerages, design and building of refineries and biodiesel plants, animal feeds, vitamin E extraction and even the development of nutrient-enriched cosmetics.

On CPO, in the last six months, the weakening Ringgit over the US Dollar has helped stimulate demand and firm up prices. More so, supply cuts from low-lying estates in Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang that had been inundated by floods has fuelled bullish sentiment in palm oil prices. 

The third month benchmark CPO futures on the Malaysian Derivatives Exchange continued its uptrend for the fifth week. Yesterday, it closed at RM2,344 a tonne.

"The higher the price climbs, the higher our palm oil exports. Hopefully, this year we can do better than last year's average of RM2,350 per tonne," Wong said.

Floods keep CPO prices buoyant

KUALA LUMPUR: Palm oil prices continue to stay bouyant as the latest data from the industry regulator showed fruit harvesting activities came to a standstill in areas inundated by the floods.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) noted crude palm oil (CPO) output in Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang fell 28 per cent in December 2014 to 201,736 tonnes from a year earlier.

Supply cuts has fuelled bullish sentiment in palm oil prices. CPO futures on the Malaysian Derivatives Exchange yesterday continued its uptrend in the fifth week, closing at RM2,353 a tonne.

Analysts anticpate CPO prices to go beyond RM2,400 per tonne in the next few weeks as the production in the east coast of the Peninsula is expected to contine being affected by the floods.

For the past six weeks, the heavier-than-usual monsoon flood in the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia had killed 28 people and displaced more than 200,000. It had also damaged many houses, roads and bridges.

RHB Research maintained a neutral outlook on the plantation sector as it cited heavy flooding is the main culprit of the sharp production decline in December 2014.

"Inventory level will likely continue to fall in the next four months as the seasonal downcycle progresses. Although near-term upside for palm oil price appears to be on the cards, we assume prices to average at RM2,500 per tonne," it told investors yesterday.

MIDF Research highlighted the higher-than-normal rainfall towards the end of 2014 over Peninsular Malaysia in particular, has had adverse effects on the oil extraction rate (OER). In December, the OER in Peninsular Malaysia dropped 20.14 per cent from 20.46 per cent. 

As heavy rainfalls are expected to continue in January 2015, the research house does not expect this month's CPO production to recover significantly.

It also said the weakening Ringgit over the US Dollar will also help to stimulate demand and firm up CPO prices. MIDF reiterated its neutral stance on the sector and forecast CPO price to average at RM2,650 per tonne.

PublicInvest Research noted that in December 2014, stock-to-usage ratio slid from 10.9 per cent to 9.8 per cent as CPO production tumbled, while exports improved slightly.

It said December 2014 palm oil exports was 0.4 per cent more than in November as weaker demand from China was cushioned by stronger exports to EU, India, Pakistan and the US.

Stocks-to-usage ratio reflects the excess of supply against demand. It is calculated by dividing the ending stocks by the demand. A fall in stock-to-use ratio means higher chances of price rise in the weeks ahead.

The research house said damaged roads and bridges, which have hampered transportation and harvesting activities, will take a few months to be repaired. 

"CPO output in the east coast would continue to be affected in the coming months. As such, we expect CPO prices to slowly tip over RM2,400 per tonne in the next couple of week."

HLIB Research believes this month's stockpile will fall further on seasonal output downtrend. Like other research houses, HLIB maintained a neutral call on the oil palm sector.