KUALA LUMPUR: Safeguarding the palm oil industry in the face of European Union (EU) resistance will be high on the agenda when Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak meets Indonesian president Joko Widodo next week in Kuching, said Malaysian Minister for Plantation Industries and Commodities Mah Siew Keong.
Speaking at a news conference during the Malaysian Palm Oil Board International Palm Oil Congress and Exhibition in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday (Nov 14), Mr Mah said oil palm producing nations met in early November and that he will be meeting 16 EU ambassadors this month as part of ongoing efforts to counter what he called discriminatory policies being discussed by the bloc.
The EU passed a resolution in April which linked the industry with deforestation and the loss of biodiversity and which, among other things, seeks to guarantee only sustainably produced palm oil enters the EU market.
Malaysia has countered allegations that palm oil is environmentally destructive, with Mr Mah saying in his speech at Tuesday's event that these were targeted to "malign" the industry.
"As I have said it many times and I say it again, it is in Malaysia’s best interest to ensure our environment is protected and this is demonstrated by our country’s vast and ancient rainforests ... The palm oil industry in Malaysia does not threaten the rainforests nor the orang utans as we are driven by the conviction that development must be tempered by conservation," he said.
He told reporters after that he was "confident" that the EU would not implement "discrimnatory policies" with negotiation and discussion. However, he added, "if it happens we will be forced to have a reaction".
Mr Mah said oil palm exporting nations like Malaysia were also importers of many European products and that they could impose their own retaliatory restrictions.
The minister said palm oil contributed RM67.6 billion (US$16.1 billion) to Malaysia's export revenue in 2016 and 4.3 per cent of its GDP, with EU countries the biggest importers, adding that he expects revenue to exceed RM70 billion this year.
Mr Mah said he expects even more markets to open up with the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) - a revised version of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement which advanced without the US earlier this week.
"Even without America, with this new proposal for CPTPP the market is still very big - it's still 500 million people," said Mr Mah, adding that RM8.4 billion of palm oil and palm-based products were exported to the 11 countries last year.
Malaysia and Indonesia are estimated to produce more than 80 per cent of global oil palm output. According to the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, Malaysia alone currently accounts for 39 per cent of world palm oil production and 44 per cent of world exports in palm oil.