Swiss move to ban palm-oil exports 

The regional parliament of Geneva in Switzerland has passed a resolution to exclude palm oil from free-trade talks with Indonesia and Malaysia. Five other Swiss cantons have approved similar measures. 

Geneva canton unanimously backed the resolution by independent Christina Meissner, who pointed to the catastrophic environmental and social consequences of oil palm.

She also said palm-oil imports could harm Swiss production of rapeseed and sunflower oil. The health impact of trans-fats in palm oil was also mentioned.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have been told they must ban palm-oil imports for biofuel and tighten oversight of supply chains if the EU wants to fulfil its forest protection goals.

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union.

A delegation representing indigenous forest communities visited parliamentarians amid a heated row with Indonesia and Malaysia.

MEPs voted in April 2017 to prohibit sales of biofuels made from vegetable oils by 2020 in order to meet its targets under the 2015 Paris climate agreement. A related vote in January reinforced the measures. Whether the measures will be implemented is being considered by the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, and member states in the European Council.

Palm oil is used in numerous supermarket products and also blended with diesel to power engines, which is what the MEPs’ ban would halt.

Malaysian and Indonesian politicians, many of whom are closely linked to the sector, accuse the EU of trade protectionism, neocolonialism and undermining poverty reduction efforts. The Malaysian plantations minister, Mah Siew Keong, called the proposed ban “crop apartheid”.

Indonesia’s economy ministry said last week that it would draft a regulation to strengthen the certification of sustainable palm oil.

Musdhalifah, the deputy food and agriculture minister, said a regulation was needed to synchronise government agencies to address the contentious issue.

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil and Malaysia is in second place, together producing 85 per cent of the planet’s supplies.

Jungle communities, who are being driven from their land by plantations, told European parliamentarians to tighten other supply chain controls to prevent damage to their land, rights and environment.

Franky Samperante of the indigenous peoples’ group, Pusaka, said Jakarta granted concessions to more than 50 firms to open plantations on 1.2 million hectares. He said palm oil from these areas should be considered a conflict product and banned from Europe.

“There should be sanctions. If not, there is no point,”  Samperante said.

The delegation’s demands were supported by the Forest People’s Programme, Global Witness, Greenpeace, WWF and the Environmental Investigation Agency.