A senior Malaysian official has again criticized the recently passed European Union regulation on deforestation, claiming it amounts to “discrimination” against small palm oil producers.
In a statement yesterday, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Fadillah Yusof called for smallholder farmers to be exempted from the EU’s Deforestation-Free Products Regulation, which requires palm oil producers to prove that their supply chains do not contribute to deforestation.
“Small farmers depend on the export of palm oil, rubber and other agricultural products to support their families,” Fadillah said in the statement. according the New Times of the Strait. “Regulating deforestation presents a significant obstacle to their access to the European market, the end result of which would be to increase poverty, reduce household income and harm our rural communities.”
It added: “These actions are unfair and stand in stark contrast to the EU’s commitments outlined in the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.”
The EU regulation, approved in December, aims to “ensure that a set of key goods placed on the EU market no longer contribute to deforestation and forest degradation in the EU and in other parts of the world,” it said. the European Commission in a statement. statement following his step.
The law will also apply to cattle, soybeans, coffee, cocoa, timber and rubber, as well as the various products derived from them, as well as palm oil, which has been credibly linked to a long list of labor rights abuses in addition to “widespread destruction of the rainforest and loss of wildlife” in both nations.
The approval of the regulation has heightened tensions between the EU and Malaysia and Indonesia, the world’s two largest producers of the versatile, ubiquitous and controversial oil. In fact, the two nations, which are otherwise fiercely competing for share of the global palm oil market, have shelved their differences and joined forces to lobby against the proposed regulatory changes, fearful that it could severely affect their exports to European nations.
Fadillah has been at the forefront of the Malaysian government’s campaign against the regulation and, since its passage, has even gone so far as to suggest that the country could stop exports of palm oil to the European market. (He later retracted the comments.)
His statement was issued in support of a group of small farmers, who met in downtown Kuala Lumpur a day earlier to deliver a petition to the EU Delegation in Malaysia, while banners were unfurled reading: “Let’s take good care of our forests” and “Stop discrimination against palm oil”.
There is some evidence that EU regulation could have a deleterious impact on small farmers. in a interview with Reuters Last month, Joseph D’Cruz, director of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a non-profit organization that works to improve sustainability in the sector, said that smaller producers may lack the capacity to undertake the onerous supply chain. requirements contained in the legislation.
“There is a human, social and development cost there, which smaller marginal producers may be forced to bear in order for the EU deforestation regulation to be implemented the way it is being set up at the moment,” said D’ Cross.
At the same time, the plight of small farmers is clearly being used by the palm oil industry, which has long downplayed the extent of deforestation and labor abuses related to palm oil plantations, to discredit the European regulation as a whole. It is clearly no coincidence that the small farmers’ protest on Wednesday was preceded by a press notice of DCI Groupa Washington-based public relations firm, suggesting a degree of coordination between smallholder farmers and the Malaysian government or palm oil industry associations.
All of this is also a reminder of the huge financial stakes that are potentially at stake, suggesting that difficult times are ahead for EU-Malaysia relations.