Malaysia is sending a delegation to four European countries to argue that the palm oil industry has reformed.
Malaysia’s primary industries minister, Teresa Kok, said she would visit the UK, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium and stress the importance of conservation efforts with forest replanting and wildlife protection.
“I will also state that Malaysian oil palm operators are very concerned about the environment, including wildlife protection,” she told the media.
But Europe is increasingly aware of the environmental damage caused by the palm oil sector.
The production of palm oil is one of the leading global causes of deforestation, along with being blamed for other environmental and socio-economic damage.
Some plantations have been accused of using forced or child labour, with workers receiving little or no pay.
There is an 85-per-cent loss of biodiversity in an ecosystem when plantations are created from the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems. Orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants are losing their habitats and becoming increasingly endangered or extinct.
Kok said Africa and central Asia were emerging markets for Malaysian palm oil, and Malaysia would continue efforts to increase its market share in West Asia.
The minister was addressing an event on the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil certificate at Johor Oil Palm Planting in Taman Kota Jaya.
Kok said Malaysia was limiting palm oil cultivation to 6.5 million hectares and would restrict the development of peatland.
The government would ban the conversion of permanent forest reserves for palm oil and produce an official map of plantations, Kok added.
India this month curbed Malaysian palm oil imports in a move seen as a retaliation to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s criticism of India’s policy in Kashmir.
India, the world’s largest buyer of cooking oil, last week restricted imports of refined palm oil and halted all palm oil purchases from Malaysia. The move was in apparent retaliation over Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s comments on Kashmir and India’s anti-Muslim citizenship law.
India has been Malaysia’s main export market since 2014.
In 2019, India bought 4.4 million tonnes of palm oil from Malaysia, accounting for 24 per cent of exports of the controversial product.
China, as the second-largest buyer of Malaysian palm oil, imported only 2.4 million tonnes last year, while the third-biggest buyer was Pakistan with 1.08 million tonnes, the Malaysian Palm Oil Council reported.
Kok said she was talking to the Indian government in a bid to resolve the palm oil concerns.
But Malaysia is in a weak bargaining position.
Indonesia, the world’s largest producer of palm oil, has lower production costs and a bigger share of the market in many countries.
The Elaeis guineensis tree grows in the equatorial regions with Malaysia and Indonesia accounting for almost 85 per cent of global palm oil supplies.
Indonesian oil is normally cheaper but recently Malaysian export prices have fallen below Indonesian rates after India turned away from Malaysia’s supplies.
The wider palm oil sector contributes around 3.5 per cent to Indonesian GDP and sustains an estimated 6 per cent of the population.
The Indonesian government in 2018 earned US$17.8 billion from exports of the oil.
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