Palm oil producing countries and the European Union (EU) should strike a “win-win” deal as soon as possible so as not to impact bilateral relations with Asean, or Indonesia and Malaysia.

“The ties between Asean and, in particular, Indonesia and Malaysia with the EU, will be affected if we do not arrive at a win-win solution of mutual interest to both sides,” said Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC) executive director Mahendra Siregar.

“The countries involved should not be facing a difficult situation. If one wins and the other loses, it will only jeopardise bilateral ties,” he said on the sidelines of the annual European Palm Oil Conference (EPOC) here on Thursday.

Palm oil has been a prickly issue between producing countries and the EU after it passed a non-binding agreement on April 4, 2017, that called for, among others, a single Certified Sustainable Palm Oil for export to Europe from 2020 onwards.

It also called for the phasing out of vegetable oils, including palm oil, from the EU biodiesel programme by 2020.

“If we are not cautious of these issues, what will happen in the future will be more detrimental than before. In the end, nobody will win. Such discriminatory measures would be damaging for smallholders.

“It is very important to understand that when we talk about the sustainability of palm oil, we also need to focus on the importance of smallholders and their access to best practices and higher premium markets,” he said.

Mahendra also said if this translated into a higher cost of access, it would then penalise smallholders as the cost of production per hectare would be higher.

“As long as you understand that situation, then collaboratively, we have to address this challenge,” he said, adding that only then could sustainable development goals, such as alleviating poverty, be achieved.

“These people need to improve their livelihoods, income access to financing and best practices.

“If we don’t do that, then it is not really sustainable development goals,” said Mahendra, who was formerly a cabinet minister in Indonesia.

Hence, Mahendra said it was not just about Indonesia or Malaysia, which accounted for 85% of the global palm oil output, but a priority for all developing countries and producers of palm oil.

“Palm oil producing countries are all developing countries,” he reiterated, adding that Malaysia and Indonesia, which were the only member countries of CPOPC, had recently reached out to Thailand, Colombia, Guatemala, Nigeria and Papua New Guinea.

These five countries, combined, account for 9% of global palm oil production.

“So, it is not just about national interest. It is in the interest of developing countries to achieve sustainable development goals. It is also about their (developing countries) sustainable development goals,” he stressed.

Oil palm is of utmost importance to oil palm growing countries as an economic and strategic crop to alleviate poverty.

Indonesia has about 17.5 million oil palm smallholders while Malaysia has 650,000. The curtailment of the palm oil trade by unfairly linking it to deforestation issues is a form of shackling smallholders to poverty forever.

Asked if palm oil producing countries were being too “nice” by taking the diplomatic channel to object to the EU’s discriminatory measures, Mahendra was quick to say: “It is never wrong to adopt the diplomatic channel. It is a very noble way. However, that itself may not be sufficient.”

There are other opportunities, including being part of discussions at the European Palm Oil Conference, collaboration and undertakings at various levels.

However, the urgency to solve the issue on a “win-win” basis is now greater than before.

“Hence, we have to redouble our efforts and commitments,” he concluded.-BERNAMA


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