The ripples are spreading far and wide from the April 4 vote by the European Parliament that adopted a ‘Resolution on Palm Oil and Deforestation of Rainforests’. This was approved by 640 votes to 18, with 28 abstentions. It will now be referred to the European Commission (EC) for deliberation and possible rule making.

The Resolution seeks a phase-out of ‘unsustainably produced’ vegetable oils – with palm oil being an identified target – as a component of biofuels in the EU by 2020. Curbs on the purported effects of ‘unsustainable production’ on forest loss, climate change, human rights and social standards are claimed to be the principal considerations behind the proposal.

Bizarre it is, binding it is not; at least not until the European Parliament passes the buck to the EC, which could then move its pawns towards prescribing legislative measures. Ominously, though, the Resolution encourages actions that are poised to discriminate against trade in palm oil and products that contain palm oil.

It urges the EU to:

  • Define the sustainability criteria for palm oil production;
  • Draw up a single certification scheme as well as traceability mechanisms;
  • Impose higher import tariffs; and
  • Step up regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet, thus far, European institutions have expended very little effort to conclusively prove that palm oil is the main driver of deforestation worldwide. Indeed, factually speaking and based on all available statistics, palm oil is not the main culprit. The blame for that has been unequivocally placed on cattle farming and soybean cultivation. But where is the resolve of the Members of the European Parliament to address this by way of the stringent measures that they want applied to palm oil alone?

If left unchecked, the Resolution has the potential to turn the palm oil industry topsy-turvy and to undermine its long-term viability. The industry generates vital economic activity in developing countries that produce palm oil, by providing jobs and raising income levels to lift people out of poverty. Oil palm cultivation remains the most economically viable agricultural activity to help increase their meagre income.


 

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