Malaysia has offered the UK a post-Brexit trade deal if it abandons the European Union’s position on environmentally ruinous palm oil.
Malaysia’s 94-year-old prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, said if London distanced itself from “the European Union’s misguided policy on palm oil” it would be offered an agreement with improved terms.
The returning premier said “it is wrong to ban one commodity” and labelled the EU’s attention on palm oil as “protectionism”, “modern colonialism” and “bullying”.
A 2015 study funded by the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, found that palm oil and soya bean oil had the highest indirect greenhouse-gas emissions because of the deforestation and drainage of peatland associated with the process.
In 2017 the bloc began to phase out biofuels made with palm oil with legislation still slowly working its way through the European Parliament.
Around 85 per cent of the versatile vegetable oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia with global production increasing from 15.2 million tonnes to 62.6 million tonnes between 1995 and 2015, according to Greenpeace.
Palm oil is used in instant noodles, shampoo, ice cream, chocolate, lipstick and factory-made bread.
Both governments in Indonesia and Malaysia have jumped on the EU’s palm-oil policies to bolster their nationalist credentials with populist rhetoric, rather than addressing the environmental devastation caused by the product.
Although Mahathir tried to demonstrate a contrast in numerous areas with the corruption-laden administration of his predecessor, Najib Razak, he has adopted the same nationalist rhetoric over palm oil.
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.
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 (pictured), clouded leopard, Sumatran tigers 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.
Mahathir claimed the European palm-oil policies were not environmentally motivated but rather looked “to protect” agriculture in EU member states.
“If Europe was so concerned about the environmental impact of palm-oil cultivation, why has it just signed a trade deal with South America?” the veteran premier wrote.
“Beef production there represents by far the world’s biggest agricultural cause of deforestation, dwarfing the CO2 emissions caused by palm oil.
“Moreover, EU nations that produce competing oilseeds, such as rapeseed, do so much less efficiently, producing a quarter to one-10th as much oil per unit of land while using more fertiliser and pesticides.
“This blatant hypocrisy is a form of modern colonialism that has no place in today’s world. By using trade as a weapon, the EU is in effect bullying poorer regions of the world.”
The proboscis monkey is dying out because of palm-oil production. Picture credit: Wikimedia