The UK will have the opportunity to make a trade deal with Southeast Asian nations, including the world’s top palm oil producers, once it leaves the European Union, and to steer clear of getting entangled in any potential trade war, according to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
“The key is to rethink the European Union’s misguided policy on palm oil,” Mahathir said in in a column for Bloomberg Opinion. “A fresh attitude toward palm oil, unencumbered by influential special-interest groups, could lead to even better trade terms between the UK and the region than it currently enjoys. We hope to avoid a trade war with Europe. But if one transpires, that doesn’t mean the UK has to get caught in the crossfire.”
The world’s most used vegetable oil can be found in everything from cookies to shampoo and biofuel, but has come under constant fire from environmentalists saying that production of the crop causes deforestation and aggravates climate change. The EU has imposed stricter limits on how palm oil can be used in green fuels, which is set to be challenged by the largest growers, Indonesia and Malaysia, through the World Trade Organization and other avenues.
Mahathir called for dialogue and engagement to achieve joint solutions, including better regulation and stronger certification standards.
“This is why Malaysia still holds out the hand of friendship to the EU in the hope that a fair, honest and reciprocal trade relationship can be salvaged,” he added. “Making this a reality depends on the EU doing what several environmental experts have already advised -- incentivize sustainable palm oil production rather than pursuing boycotts and protectionism.”