France: Palm oil sustainability still a concern for consumers

KUCHING: Palm oil will not be discriminated as a biofuel in the European Union, but the oil’s sustainability remains a key concern for its consumers and its industries.

Earlier this year in January, the European Parliament (EP) voted to ban the use of palm oil for the production of biofuels in the European Union by 2021.

Since that decision, the France Ambassador in Malaysia Frédéric Laplanche guided that the government has pledged to pursue a renegotiation in the EP on the matter as they wished to ensure that the European legislation would not be discriminatory against palm oil compared to other biofuels.

“Palm oil is an important issue, and France is conscious that this is an important crop and part of the economy for Sarawak and Malaysia.

“We (French government) certainly do not want any ban against palm oil. And around three weeks ago, through internal negotiations with the EP, we have reached a consensus between different institutions of the EP and indeed we have managed to withdraw any discriminatory measures against palm oil.

“So that is a success in making sure that we treat palm oil fairly in the European market as far as biodiesel is concerned,” he said during an interview with The Borneo Post yesterday.

Last month, the French government gave the green light for a new biofuel refinery in France to utilise palm oil in the production of biofuel. It was agreed that the refinery would be able to use up to 300,000 tonnes of palm oil annually.

While it is good news that palm oil will likely be given a fair trial by the EU moving forward, there is still much concern about the sustainability aspect of our top agricultural product and its attractiveness to the international market.

“At the same time, I want to be very clear with all my interlocutors in Malaysia, between Sarawak, Sabah, the peninsular or the federal government. I want to be very clear and very frank that we will continue to have difficulty around the perception of palm oil.

“As long as the development of palm oil continues with deforestation to expand the surface of plantations rather than focusing on raising yield in existing plantations, the European public opinion will remain sensitive on this.

“Nowadays, everybody is thinking about curbing climate change as a priority and the environment and biodiversity across the world. And the consumers in Europe are very careful about what they consume and what they buy as to not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, climate change or the loss of biodiversity.

“And so one of my roles here is to be frank with my interlocuters about the situation and make sure that local decisionmakers, producers and companies understand that if we don’t act in a convincing manner on these issues, in a few years there is a risk that palm oil will not be acceptable for consumers anymore in the European market,” Laplanche guided.

The ambassador further emphasised his hopefulness for local stakeholders and the government to be willing to cooperate with the French government in tackling issues facing the palm oil industry as he believed that insight and findings from French SEA agricultural research for development centre (CIRAD) and other French government funded agriculture research would be fruitful to the endeavour of creating sustainability.

“We want to have a dialogue with the producing companies here. We do not want to pretend that there isn’t problem, but to look at the problem and work at solving it together,” he stressed.

Besides that, Laplanche also believed increased cooperation on the matter would also help improve the overall agriculture industry in Malaysia and Sarawak.

“We can also cooperate together by sharing our experience about smallholders and small farmers because it is very important to keep their interest so they can continue with their work and have good revenue out of their livelihoods.

“They are the most important in this picture and with France having an agriculture industry full of small farmers, it is definitely a sector of potential cooperation and policy making,” he said.

There were also other aspects of French agriculture that Laplanche believed would prove valuable to the local agriculture scene, such as the concept of geographical indication of a specific produce.

“French agriculture products are well sought after and renowned for their quality as we protect the intellectual property and its geographic indicator. This allows the value of the product to be raised.

“While this concept is not widely used in Malaysia yet, there are so many produces that could emulate this such as Sarawak pepper.”

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