France promises no palm oil discrimination

This is written by my colleague Roziana Hamsawi.

KUALA LUMPUR: THE French government will not discriminate palm oil products from other vegetable oils, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault gave his assurance yesterday.

He said the French government had never been hostile towards palm oil, adding that he understood how important the commodity is to Malaysia and its people.

In a joint press conference with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak at the Prime Minister's Office, Ayrault pointed out that this is despite some initiatives taken by the French parliament members to impose a special tax on palm oil.

Last year, it was reported that the French Senate approved a quadrupling of the tax on palm oil despite protests from major producing nations including Malaysia.

The move was, however, rejected by France's Lower House.

"The palm oil will not be treated differently from other vegetable oils and there will be no discrimination on palm oil," said Ayrault.

"I know how palm oil is very important to Malaysia, given the number of people who rely on palm oil production for their living, particularly small producers," he added. 

Najib, meanwhile, said Ayrault had assured him that there will not be any new tax for palm oil and the commodity will be treated pari passu as other vegetable oils in France.

Last Friday, the New Straits Times ran an open letter to Ayrault from the National Association of Smallholders Malaysia (Nash), which represents more than 300,000 small oil palm farmers across Malaysia, and the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), the industry promotional body.

The letter touched on the ongoing campaign of misinformation by French companies and politicians against Malaysian-produced palm oil and it urged the French premier to put an end to such actions which are adversely affecting the country's palm oil industry.

"Allegations about nutrition and the environment cannot be allowed to stand. The reality is that palm oil is the most efficient vegetable oil in the world, is 100 per cent free of dangerous trans-fats, a major catalyst for poverty reduction and increases prosperity in Malaysia and elsewhere in the world," said both Nash and MPOC.

Malaysia, they said, far exceeds France's commitment to conservation - preserving 56 per cent of forest cover compared with France's 29 per cent, a commitment well above the United Nations' target.