Palm oil trade barriers, a priority in FTA talks

BARRIERS to palm oil trade will be a priority item on the negotiating table in Malaysia's free trade agreement (FTA) talks with the European Union (EU), said Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok.

Malaysia and the EU is due to hold its second round of FTA talks next month.

"We want to ensure the palm oil industry does not face obstacles," he said.

"We will assist palm oil exporters to remove trade barriers and explore new markets while making the palm oil industry competitive," he added.

One of the obstacles, he said, was the negative campaign by Western environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which claimed the expansion of oil palm plantations had sacrificed forest biodiversity.

Rivalry from competing vegetable oils grown in Europe has seen some under-handed tactics adopted by developed nations to curb the growth of the palm oil trade.

Well-funded activist groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth from Europe and their affiliates in Malaysia and Indonesia blame oil palm planters for destroying forests and decimating the orang utan population. They also viciously campaigning against palm oil imports into the EU, especially for biofuels.

The NGOs anti-palm oil campaign is aligned with the EU's Renewable Energy Directive that seeks to discriminate against palm biodiesel.

"These NGOs continue to mislead consumers in Europe. I will inform the International Trade and Industry minister on such unfair trade practices," said Dompok.

Malaysia has to seriously address such trade barriers to palm oil trade because almost a million jobs are at stake. The sprawling palm oil industry also supports some two million livelihoods in the economy.

Dr Gernot Pehnelt, founder and director of GlobEcon, an independent research and consulting institute in Germany had last month argued the directive's assumptions of imported biofuels' ecological impact reflected political and not scientific or economic reality.

The EU ambassador and head of delegation to Malaysia Vincent Piket, however, denies the EU is discriminating against palm oil. He reportedly said the sustainability criteria used by the EU Renewable Energy Directive were science-based, verifiable and in accordance with the World Trade Organisation principles.

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