The Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA) has urged the government to halt trade deals with the European Union until the bloc’s proposed ban on palm oil imports is axed.
Association CEO Nageeb Wahab said the European Parliament’s “discriminative action” against palm oil would affect in excess of 3 million farmers across developing nations.
More than 85 per cent of the world’s palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia, where it makes up an RM80-billion (US$20.5 billion) export industry.
Palm oil is used in around 40-50 per cent of foods and other household products sold in the west.
“The ban would threaten the livelihoods of 650,000 smallholders and over 3.2 million Malaysians who rely on the palm-oil industry,” Nageeb said.
“The smallholders account for almost 40 per cent of the total planted area in the country.”
According to the WWF, every hour an area of rainforest the size of 300 football fields is cleared for palm oil to be grown on.
Indonesia is now the world’s third-highest greenhouse gas emitter because cleared vegetation is often burned.
A third of all Indonesian mammal species are now estimated to be critically endangered as a result of deforestation, largely for palm oil.
The Sumatran rhino, sun bear, pygmy elephant, proboscis monkey, clouded leopard, Sumatran tiger and orangutan are all threatened. Around 1,000 of the gentle “man of the forest” are thought to have died every year as a result of palm-oil production in the last 20 years, with some of the giant apes found buried alive.
But Malaysian plantation and commodities minister Mah Siew Keong called the MEPs’ proposed palm-oil ban “crop apartheid” and a “black day for free trade”.
Meanwhile, his government’s funding for the sector has tumbled.
The MPOA, the body responsible for the promotion and development of the commodity, has seen its budget cut from RM25 million in 2014 to RM14.5 million for 2015, which is tiny given the importance of the crop to the Malaysian economy.
Last month members of the European Parliament passed a resolution requiring only sustainably produced palm oil to be imported to the bloc after 2020.
It will still need to approved by the EU’s executive, the European Commission, and the European Council, representing the 28 members. This complex process has been largely missed by the Malaysian coverage of the “ban”.
MEPs also voted to approve a renewable energy law that called for zero emissions from biofuels and bio-liquids produced from palm oil after January 2021.
Nageeb said the MPOA fully supported the Malaysian move to form a “Friends of Palm Oil” alliance with eight other palm-oil producing countries to take on the EU.
“The initiative calls for an urgent need to clear many misconceptions by the EU on palm oil where the EU have chosen to ignore many factual information [sic] such as Malaysia’s landmass that is 57 per cent covered with forest,” the palm-oil lobbyist added.