Business

Minister lobbies EU over
palm oil restrictions

Indonesia, the world's largest palm oil producer, has sent Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyantono to lobby the European Union (EU), over concerns the group were planning a policy that would limit imports of the commodity.

After arriving in Jakarta on Tuesday from a week-long visit to the continent, Anton said Indonesian and Malaysian representatives met EU parliamentarians, assuring them the palm oil produced by the two countries met emission standards set by the EU.

Anton visited several European countries -- the United Kingdom, Netherlands, and Belgium -- with his campaign. During a meeting on Sept. 11 with the EU, he filed Indonesia's opposition to a planned EU directive on renewable energy and fuel quality (DREFQ) which would enter a voting phase during the general assembly next month.

Anton, who is a tout supporter of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), argued that this directive would hamper palm oil exports from Indonesia and Malaysia to EU member states.

The directive, however, regulates palm oil supply for alternative energy use, while imports for cooking oil and soap are not subject to the same laws.

Palm oil exported to the EU for biofuel is required to have a minimum emissions benchmark rate of 35 percent (the higher the rate the lesser the impact of the commodity on the environment).

According to the EU, however, the average recorded emissions rate of 32 percent for palm oil was below the minimum requirement.

Malaysia has denied the emissions rate measurement made by the EU, arguing that it was in fact around 60 percent.

Indonesia and Malaysia account for 85 percent of the world's palm oil output.

Anton said the planned EU directive was merely aimed at reducing the group's dependency on palm oil, which it could not produce itself.

"We are being attacked with environmental issues, while the real reason is trade competition, specifically with rapeseed. I asked the audience in a seminar why it should be us who makes the sacrifice and not those producing rapeseed or soybean."

"The EU was influenced by negative campaigns from non-governmental organizations (NGOs). We feel it's not about environmental issues, it's about trade," Anton said.

According to the ministry, Indonesia's palm oil exports reached 16.9 million tons last year with a total value of US$7.9 billion. Exports to Europe accounted for one fifth of this figure.

The EU has also accused palm oil producers of damaging the environment by planting crops in or near natural forests, and even in the middle of protected animal habitats.

SawitWatch researcher Norman Jiwon said oil palm plantations had caused huge amounts of damage to the environment.

"Aside from peatland damage, the planting and production of palm oil is damaging our environment," he said.

However, Anton argued that of the 133 million hectares of forests cleared, oil palm plantations accounted for 6.3 million hectares, highlighting the relative size of the damage.

"It's only a small proportion. And the peatland cleared for the plantations was only 5 percent of the 6.3 million hectares," he said.

"We should choose between human interests or those of the monkeys," said Anton, adding that the palm oil sector currently employed more than 5 million people.

Founder of the Center for Orangutan Protection, Hardi Baktiantoro, said the numbers Anton cited were only statistics.

"On paper, these plantations are said to be developed on grasslands or in agricultural areas when in reality they have flattened forests containing high biodiversity."

"It's mafia at every layer. From the map making, through to other production and legal processes," Hardi said. (iwp)

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