Back from the World Championships in Beijing, Belgian runner Anne Zagré explains the importance of palm oil and development in Africa. With a university background in economics, and most of her family working in agriculture in the Ivory Coast, Anne tells us about the positive impact that palm oil has in alleviating poverty and ensuring food security in the African continent. Discover more about Anne Zagre and palm oil here:
Malaysia and the EU recently signed the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), concluding negotiations that have been ongoing since 2010. The EU and Malaysia also recently announced that they would re-start negotiations on a bilateral trade deal.
The announcement comes after a number of false starts. The talks originally commenced in 2010; they were called off in 2012, and then there was an announcement in 2014 that they would re-start.
The question might be: why now?
The EU has recently completed trade deals with Singapore and Vietnam. The Singapore agreement – given the nature of the Singaporean economy – revolves more around services and investment rather than goods. The Vietnam agreement is yet to be approved by the European Council or the European Parliament.
But the push into Asia comes on the back of a new trade strategy being pushed by the European Commission.
In its Trade For All policy released at the end of last year, the EU made it clear that it needs to push into the Asia-Pacific region. There was a general recognition that the Asia-Pacific region – and East Asia – was an opportunity that the EU had somewhat overlooked.
This recognition was better late than never; Pacific trade surpassed Atlantic trade for the first time in 1980. This was largely on the back of bilateral trade between Japan and the US, but it meant that Europe’s role as a driver of global trade was waning.
The important focus now for the EU is to support its export economy, namely Germany, at a time when the EU’s domestic consumption is flatlining.
So, the real question around the MEUFTA is who wants it more?
A notable feature of the recently signed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement negotiations was that all parties wanted to be there and for the deal to be completed; there was no sense of reluctance. If one party walked away, the deal – which included two of the world’s three largest economies – could still go ahead. This is not the case with a bilateral agreement.
The current EU-Malaysia situation
Malaysia’s biggest trading partners are China, Japan, the US, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand. All of these trading partners are taken care of under either the TPP, the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, or the China-ASEAN free trade agreement.
The trade balance between Malaysia and the EU is in Malaysia’s favour, not Europe’s, when it comes to goods. On services, it’s in the EU’s favour but the size of the trade is about one quarter of the goods trade.
When it comes to investment, both are significant investors in each other’s economies. Again, this weighs in the EU’s favour; outward stocks are bigger than inward stocks, but it’s not a massive imbalance. Malaysia already has investment treaties with the EU’s major economies such as Germany, France, the UK and the Netherlands. In addition to this, the Malaysian and EU Governments now plan to add the MEUFTA.
The primary issue for Malaysia’s trade negotiators is to ensure that Malaysia receives the best deal possible, within the trade negotiations with the EU. This is clearly the normal, fundamental position of any country entering a trade negotiation.
Key Issues for Malaysia
The EU has made a point of tabling a number of non-trade issues into its trade agreements – such as the environment and human rights. A number of sources have said that this is the reason that the trade negotiations between the EU and Thailand stalled completely.
In fact, there remains the outside possibility that the EU-Vietnam trade agreement will not go ahead; complaints have been made to the European Ombudsman regarding the lack of a ‘human rights assessment’.
Malaysia needs to consider how any agreement with the EU will affect the regulations and restrictions governing the exports of its critical agricultural exports – in particular palm oil.
The key issues for Malaysia are policy measures across Europe that block market access. They currently appear in four forms.
The first could be best described as ‘environmental’ barriers to trade.
The EU has already attempted to impose more onerous conditions on imports of timber from tropical countries via its ‘voluntary partnership agreements’ (VPAs) on timber under its Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) program. And the idea of a FLEGT-type arrangement for other commodities has already been floated.
Could a FLEGT-type arrangement for palm oil be pre-empted in MEUFTA? And could it give Malaysia something of an upper hand in Europe? Similarly, could an Indonesian arrangement give Indonesian palm oil producers an upper hand?
If anything, a government-to-government arrangement would necessarily make national certification systems – such as the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) – an absolute precondition of any arrangement. This would be the baseline for Malaysian negotiators.
However, there may be resistance to this from the European Parliament. The VPA arrangement between Indonesia and the EU – which is still not operational – has been lobbied against by a number of European Parliamentarians who think the standards are not ‘green’ enough. This should not deter Malaysia from pursuing its strategic interests: the internal politics in Brussels should be managed by the EU itself.
The second issue should be the ongoing tax discrimination against palm oil.
This has been the issue of the day in France, with the introduction of a tax on any product containing palm oil that isn’t considered ‘sustainable’ (how that will be defined is not clear). Similar proposals have been put forward previously in the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy. But the introduction of such a tax is a slippery slope, particularly when it is a measure that is clearly designed to offer local oilseed growers protection against imported palm oil, which is a superior and more competitive product.
It is highly likely that the French tax won’t withstand WTO scrutiny, but such a measure is a signal that European lawmakers are not negotiating in good faith. In short, it is clearly in Malaysia’s strategic interest that any Malaysia-EU trade agreement should prevent the imposition of any kind of tax measure against palm oil.
The third issue is the EU’s refusal to properly implement EU laws to protect Malaysian palm oil. Palm oil products across Europe are being attacked through the use of No Palm Oil labels. The labels, used by several companies primarily in France and Belgium – including major retailers such as Delhaize and Casino – are discriminatory and have been shown to be illegal under multiple existing EU laws on advertising and unfair trading. A court in France has already ruled that similar anti-palm oil campaigns breached existing advertising rules.
The EU is not enforcing the laws, currently, which is tantamount to supporting the anti-palm oil labelling efforts in Europe. The labels are a key barrier to fair trading for palm oil inside the EU single market. It is strongly in the interests of Malaysia’s palm oil industry that the Malaysia-EU free trade agreement stipulates that laws on labelling will be fully and effectively enforced.
Finally, on biofuels, and in particular the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED).
The RED was established as a means to increase the uptake of renewable fuels in Europe by mandating that a percentage of renewable fuel be used in all sectors. For liquid fuels, this meant for the most part ethanol-blended fuels and biodiesel fuels.
Mandating the use of these fuels in effect provided subsidy for producers. In Europe, this includes rapeseed growers, which have been struggling against rising imports of better-value palm oil for use in food and other applications. However, the mandate also applies to imported feedstocks and fuels, which means that lower-cost imported biofuels (and their feedstocks) also have access to the subsidy. To get around this, the EU introduced a series of arbitrary technical measures that discriminate against palm oil under the RED. This measure is currently under challenge in the WTO.
As with the differential tax, this does not provide a signal of good faith to Malaysia.
The EU is often described as ‘Fortress Europe’ in terms of trade policy, an image the EU is trying to cast off. The EU’s Trade For All document begins by describing trade as a two-way street.
But Europe cannot continue to play a duplicitous game around trade. The EU must not continue to fund NGOs that argue for arbitrary barriers to trade for commodities they object to, and EU countries must cease introducing discriminatory tax measures and protectionist policies. This would be consistent with good faith trade negotiations. If the EU continues to support anti-palm oil efforts, it is clear that the trade negotiations are not based on good faith.
If Europe wants to gain a foothold in Asia, it needs to start walking down that ‘two way street’ – and Malaysia, must ensure that includes no more discrimination against palm oil imports.
Noted Dutch conservationist Erik Meijaard recently weighed in on the debate around the reform of Indonesian forest laws.
The debate revolves around the handing millions of hectares of Indonesian forest back to indigenous communities.
Indonesian land laws previously stated that forests belong to the state. However, a 2013 Constitutional Court decision declared that certain aspects of Indonesia’s forest law violated the constitution, particularly in relation to indigenous rights.
The Indonesian Environment and Forestry Ministry then issued a regulation to reallocate up to 30 percent of industrial forests and forest concession areas to indigenous owners.
Meijaard is concerned with two things. First, the risks any proposals present to levels of deforestation. Second, the need for benefits to accrue to the affected communities.
For example, Mejiaard is concerned that if Indonesian communities are handed property titles to their land, they will simply sell it to a plantation company or other developer almost immediately in return for a windfall gain rather than long-term benefits.
To bolster his argument, Meijaard cites the use of communal land titles in Malaysia as an example of how not to proceed, taking a swipe at Malaysian policy on the way:
There [in Malaysia], the government issued so called Communal Land Titles with the intention to expedite land alienation to native people, but also to ensure the development of their land. In several states of the country, these titles proved unhelpful to local communities. The issuance of these titles by the government was often implemented in association with joint venture development schemes with government agencies or corporations. The result is that in many cases, the primary beneficiaries of these communal titles were the government, development agencies and plantation companies, with communities losing their forests and earning opportunities.
It’s not entirely clear what Mejiaard is referring to; the Communal Title concept was introduced in Sabah, specifically. So, assuming he means the Sabahan native titles, the problems that he is referring to appear to relate to Sabah’s ‘fast tracking’ the issuance of communal titles if that land was to be developed for plantations or other projects. This may have resulted in negative impacts; but at the same time, this ignores one of the underlying features of communal titles in Sabah, and that is the inability to sell communal title. This has happened in the village of Gouvton, for example.
In other words, Meijaard’s problem is not with the nature of the title itself, but with the approval process and the incentives around it.
But it should also be noted that communal titles are not the main vehicle for the establishment of native customary rights across Malaysia – despite Meijaard’s commentary giving the distinct impression that it is.
What is apparently not worth mentioning is that Malaysia has made continued and repeated efforts to improve customary title, and part of this has been the parallel implementation of programs that encourage economic development.
Programs under FELDA, for example, were instrumental in giving Malaysian villagers – including many indigenous groups – land title and subsequently encouraging economic development. It has also pushed this model in the states of Sabah and Sarawak. The outcomes from the FELDA programs have been extraordinary in terms of reducing poverty.
It should be remembered also that these programs were not introduced into some sort of cadastral ‘state of grace’. Colonisation by the British had already appropriated lands and introduced titling systems that were completely foreign. Despite this, successive Malaysian governments took these legal tools – particularly the Torrens system of land titling – and produced an outcome for Malaysians that has been for the most part equitable given the incredibly diverse population in Malaysia. Consider for example the Minangkabau population in Negeri Sembilan, or the Bugis across much of the Peninsula.
And Malaysia has been proactive in terms of assisting its populations; it hasn’t waited for a court case to force it into action. This isn’t that bad for a country that’s only had independence for almost 60 years. It took Australia 90 years to introduce laws recognising native title; and customary rights still aren’t part of the Australian constitution.
Additionally, it’s one thing to have principles that recognise indigenous/customary title, but a strong cadastral and titling system – as well as a reliable legal system – is needed to underpin any claims to title, customary or otherwise. So, while it’s one thing to argue about the principles of a legal decision, the key to its success is the implementation. Malaysia’s approach to customary title may not be perfect, but it is always improving.
Meijaard’s intervention in the debate – and his criticism of the Malaysian efforts on customary title – is disappointing. Too often, Western-focused individuals will intervene in a high-handed manner, criticising the efforts of developing nations, even when those efforts are well-established, and effective. The native communities have the right to develop and use their land as they see fit; and any regulations governing that are a matter for the communities themselves and the local authorities. Lecturing communities, rather than helping them, is not a constructive contribution to the debate.
La taxe française sur l’huile de palme, votée par l’Assemblée Nationale en Mars, est une proposition discriminatoire, qui nuirait aux relations Franco-Malaisienne.
L’huile de palme est le produit majeur d’exportation de la Malaisie et de l’Indonésie, que ce soit sous sa forme brute, ou oléochimique. La taxe proposée par la France est un acte hostile qui pourrait avoir des conséquences négatives sur l’emploi et le développement rural en Indonésie et en Malaisie, ainsi que dans d’autres pays producteurs d’huile de palme à travers le monde.
La question suivante a donc le mérite d’être posée: si la Malaisie devait réagir face à cette taxe, à travers sa politique commerciale, quelles options seraient à sa disposition?
Il existe un certain nombre d’options qui seraient disponibles, si les pays producteurs d’huile de palme choisissaient de réagir.
Suspension des négociations concernant l’accord de libre-échange Malaisie-UE. Les négociations pour l’accord de libre-échange entre la Malaisie et l’UE sont en cours depuis 2006. Elles ont été suspendus en 2012 avant les élections en Malaisie, mais ont finalement reprises il y a quelques semaines.
Le commerce bilatéral entre la Malaisie et l’UE n’est pas primordial. Toutefois, l’UE est parfaitement consciente qu’elle accuse un retard dans la région Asie-Pacifique, en particulier avec l’avènement de l’accord PTP entre les pays du Pacifique, sous l’égide des Etats-Unis. Des accords avec des pays tels que la Malaisie sont d’une grande importance politique pour l’UE. Car si l’UE est rebutée par la Malaisie, ce serait un revers considérable pour sa politique commerciale en générale.
Cibler des produits français. La Malaisie importe des quantités importantes de produits laitiers sous forme de poudre de lait écrémé; des quantités importantes proviennent de France et sont soumises à des tarifs d’importation. Les importations en provenance de la Nouvelle-Zélande et de l’Australie ne sont pas sujettes à des tarifs d’importants en raison de l’accord de libre-échange ASEAN-Australie-NZ. L’Accord de partenariat transpacifique permettra de réduire également les coûts sur ces produits en provenance des États-Unis et du Canada. En d’autres termes, la Malaisie sera en mesure de remplacer l’importation de ces produits français – en ayant recours à d’autres fournisseurs sans aucun problème.
Reconsidérer les marchés publics. Les procédures concernant les marchés publics ne sont pas soumises aux règles de l’OMC, à l’exception d’un certain nombre de pays qui ont adhéré à l’Accord sur les marchés publics. Ce n’est un secret pour personne que les appels d’offres fixent souvent des règles qui favorisent les entreprises nationales ou les pays fournisseurs préférés.
Les services de transport et d’ingénierie sont parmi les principales exportations Française. La Malaisie – comme d’autres pays de la région – a un certain nombre de projets d’infrastructures en développement. Parmi ceux-ci, celui du transport public de Klang Valley. L’une des principales offres retenues dans cette première phase du projet a été la société de transport allemande Siemens.
Les étapes ultérieures du projet vont maintenant faire l’objet d’un appel d’offres. L’autorité Française en charge de la promotion des exportations a poussé les entreprises françaises à participer au processus d’appel d’offres. Ce processus pourrait être plus compliqué pour ces dernières. Que ce soit leurs participations ou chances de succès.
Les exportations de l’industrie aéronautique. De même, les dépenses dans le secteur de la défense ne sont pas régies par les règles de l’OMC et, les exportations dans ce secteur sont importantes pour la France. Comme c’est le cas pour les marchés publics, les dépenses dans ce secteur sont souvent politisées. Reconsidérer ces contrats portant sur l’aviation ou les navires de guerre – comme une réponse à la taxe sur l’huile de palme – serait un revers considérable pour les exportateurs français. Les négociations pour des contrats concernant l’aviation et navires de guerres ont attirés l’attention des médias qui ont mis en avant l’échec des négociations menées par le gouvernement actuelle.
Pour le moment, ceci n’est qu’une hypothèse, comme c’est le cas de la taxe sur l’huile de palme qui est encore en négociation au Parlement: le Sénat doit encore examiner cette proposition. Si la taxe est promulguée, elle aura un impact sur les pays producteurs tels que l’Indonésie et la Malaisie. Dès lors, plusieurs options sont disponibles.
La question principale est maintenant la suivante: Est-ce que les législateurs Français continueront à avancer sur ce projet de taxe qui pourrait nuire aux économies de la France, de la Malaisie et de l’Indonésie? Le Secrétaire d’Etat chargé du commerce extérieur Matthias Fekl est actuellement en Asie du Sud-Est – en Indonésie et à Singapour – cette semaine afin promouvoir les bonnes relations entre la France et cette région. Si le gouvernement français veut réellement entretenir de bonnes relations, la première étape serait d’annuler cette taxe discriminatoire et préjudiciable sur l’huile de palme.
The French palm oil tax, as passed by the National Assembly in March, is a discriminatory proposal, that would harm the relations between France, and Malaysia.
Palm oil is a major commodity export for Malaysia, and for Indonesia, whether in the form of crude palm oil itself (CPO), oleochemicals or other products. The tax proposed by France is a serious and unfriendly act that could have negative consequences for jobs and rural development in Indonesia and Malaysia, and possibly other palm oil producing countries around the world.
In which case, the question needs to be asked: if Malaysia were to respond to the tax, through trade policy instruments, what would be the options at their disposal?
There are a number of options that would be available, if palm oil producing countries chose to respond.
Suspend the Malaysia-EU free trade negotiations. Negotiations for the Malaysia EU Free Trade Agreement (MEUFTA) have been on and off since around 2006. They were suspended in 2012 in the lead-up to the Malaysian elections of that year, but we re-started just a few weeks ago.
Two-way trade between Malaysia and the EU isn’t enormous. However, the EU is acutely aware that it is missing out on trade in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly with the advent of the TPPA agreement between the Pacific countries, led by the USA. Agreements with countries such as Malaysia are of great political significance for the EU. If the EU is rebuffed by Malaysia, it would be a considerable setback for its broader trade policy.
Like-for-like targeting of French products. Malaysia imports significant quantities of bulk dairy commodities in the form of skim milk powder and whey milk powder; significant quantities come from France and are subject to import tariffs. Imports from New Zealand and Australia are tariff-free because of the ASEAN-Australia-NZ Free Trade Agreement. The forthcoming Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement will reduce tariffs on those products to zero when coming from the US and Canada. In other words, Malaysia would be able to switch away from importing these French products – and can switch to other geographic suppliers with no problems.
Reconsider government procurement. Government procurement procedures are not subject to WTO rules, with the exception of the small number of countries that have signed up to the Agreement on Government Procurement. It’s no secret that government tenders often set local content rules in tenders that will favour domestic firms or preferred supplier countries.
France’s major exports include transport services and engineering services. Malaysia – like other countries in the region – has a number of infrastructure developments underway. Among these is the Klang Valley Mass Transit Project. One of the major successful tenderers in the first phase of the project was the German transport company Siemens.
Later stages of the project are now coming up for tender evaluation. France’s export promotion authority has been pushing French firms to participate in the tender process. It would be relatively simple for the tender process to be moved away from French firms, making it very difficult for them to participate or succeed.
Aviation exports. Similarly, defence spending is an area that is not governed by WTO rules and, again, military and aviation exports are significant exports for France. Like government procurement, defence spending is often politicised. A move to reconsider defence contracts in, say, aviation or naval vessels – as a response to the French palm oil tax – would be a considerable setback for France’s exporters. Both have been under considerable scrutiny in the French media, with accusations of the Hollande government bungling export deals.
This is a thought experiment, for now, as the palm oil tax still has not become law in France: the Senate must still consider the proposal. If the tax does become law, and impacts producing countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, there are clearly several options for a trade-based response.
The central question now is: Will France’s lawmakers continue to move ahead with a tax that could harm the economies of France, Malaysia and Indonesia? French Minister Matthias Fekl is in South-East Asia – specifically Indonesia and Singapore – this week, promoting good relations between France and the region. If the French Government is serious about good relations, the first step is to drop the discriminatory and damaging palm oil tax.
Contrepoints – Selon un rapport de l’Union Européenne, l’huile de palme serait bénéfique pour la santé des Européens.
Le mois dernier, le service de recherche du Parlement européen a publié une contribution qui pourrait enrichir le débat sur les graisses trans. En lisant ce document de huit pages, disponible sur le site internet de l’institution européenne, chacun peut comprendre ce que sont les graisses trans et le problème qu’elles représentent aujourd’hui en termes de santé publique.
Trois enseignements essentiels sont mis en lumière dans ce rapport. Il existe un consensus sur la dangerosité des graisses trans pour la santé. Elles peuvent être facilement remplacées par des substituts naturels et accessibles comme l’huile de palme. Les mesures prises par l’Union Européenne pour réguler l’utilisation des graisses trans doivent être plus contraignantes.
Les auteurs du document montrent qu’à ce sujet, la communauté scientifique toute entière est parvenue à un consensus : issues de l’hydrogénation partielle d’huiles fluides, les graisses trans industrielles augmentent significativement le risque de maladies cardiovasculaires, d’obésité et de diabète de type 2. Ils soutiennent également que nous gagnerions collectivement à promouvoir la limitation de leur consommation – voire leur interdiction complète – au profit de graisses de substitution comme certaines huiles insaturées transformées, de graisses animales comme le beurre, et bien évidemment les huiles végétales naturellement saturées comme l’huile de palme ou de coco. Comme l’ont souligné les auteurs du rapport, de nombreux pays à travers le monde utilisent déjà l’huile de palme comme un substitut naturel aux graisses trans.
Les acides gras trans ciblés par les organisations du monde entier
S’il est une vérité généralement admise, c’est que les acides gras trans sont un danger sanitaire dont il faut se prémunir. En effet, les maladies cardiovasculaires sont la première cause de mortalité en Europe et l’OMS alerte qu’une consommation de l’ordre de 2% des apports quotidiens en énergie augmente de 23% le risque d’un accident cardiovasculaire. En réponse, une poignée d’organisations de santé publique, ont pris la résolution d’agir. En 2015, la Food and Drug Administration américaine a publié une décision qui stipulait que les acides gras trans n’étaient plus généralement reconnus sûrs pour la consommation humaine. Le Danemark a été le premier pays membre de l’UE, dès 2003, à déclarer que la quantité de graisse trans dans un produit ne pouvait excéder 2% du total des graisses. La question est la suivante : pourquoi ces pionniers n’ont-ils pas été suivis par d’autres pays ?
Pourquoi trouvons-nous donc encore ces graisses dans nos produits alimentaires ?
La réponse est incertaine. Ce qui est certain, c’est que les graisses trans ont été amenées dans les années 1950 comme une alternative aux graisses animales. On croyait alors que leur concentration en graisses saturées les rendait moins bonnes pour la santé. Une erreur d’appréhension qui a conduit à une baisse de la consommation de graisses saturées et à une hausse de la consommation des graisses trans. Rétrospectivement, quelle ironie ! Mais les propriétés fonctionnelles des huiles partiellement hydrogénées les ont rendues fort populaires auprès des agro-industriels. Et comme le souligne le rapport du Parlement Européen, toutes les graisses ne peuvent adéquatement les remplacer.
Des alternatives saines à privilégier
Avec des résultats aussi probants que ceux observés au Danemark, où une étude récente a montré que la santé cardiovasculaire s’est améliorée plus vite après les mesures prises contre les graisses trans que la moyenne des pays de l’OCDE, l’Europe souhaite prendre le taureau par les cornes. Depuis une dizaine d’années, plusieurs pays européens ont opté pour une limitation de l’utilisation des huiles partiellement hydrogénées, favorisant un retour aux graisses saines et naturelles. Parmi celles-ci l’huile de palme – bien que souvent décriée par les médias – est un choix tout à fait rationnel. Naturellement solide à température ambiante, elle ne nécessite aucune manipulation ou hydrogénation pour être utilisable par l’industrie. Ses propriétés fonctionnelles lui confèrent un avantage certain sur d’autres huiles moins saturées, qui doivent être transformées. De plus, elle ne contient absolument aucun OGM.
Par ailleurs, et c’est sans doute l’aspect le plus important, tout effort permettant la diminution (voire l’élimination) de la consommation des graisses trans est un pas dans le bon sens. Plusieurs études très sérieuses ont su montrer que leur remplacement par des acides gras saturés ou insaturés dans l’alimentation humaine représentait un progrès significatif.
Quant au débat toujours actif au sujet de l’impact des acides gras saturés sur la santé, qui oppose un dogme vieux de 50 ans à des dizaines d’études qui le contredisent, seule une certitude persiste : contrairement aux graisses saturées, les graisses trans sont unanimement reconnues comme dangereuses. Le rapport du Parlement européen démontre qu’il est maintenant temps d’agir, passer de la parole aux actes.
Contrepoints – EU report shows that using palm oil can help improve health outcomes in Europe.
The European Parliament’s research service has published an important contribution to the European debate around trans fats. The Parliament’s eight-page document is currently on its website and anyone can clearly understand from reading it, what trans fats are and the impact they have today on public health.
The European Parliament’s document essentially reaches three primary conclusions – first, that trans fats are agreed by consensus to be uniquely harmful; second, that they can be replaced easily and beneficially with currently available natural products, such as palm oil; and third, that the EU needs to step up work on this areas as to date only four countries in the EU have actually taken sufficient action against trans fats.
The European Parliament’s conclusions show that on this subject, the whole scientific community has reached a consensus: industrial trans fats, created from partial hydrogenation of fluid oils, significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. They also argue that we would collectively benefit from promoting the limitation of consumption – or even a complete ban – and use alternative fats instead, such as certain transformed unsaturated oils, animal fats such as butter, and of course vegetable oils naturally rich in saturated fatty acids.. Palm oil for example, as highlighted by the Parliamentary research service, is already widely used around the world as a natural replacement for trans fats.
Trans fats targeted by organisations worldwide
If there is a globally accepted truth, it is that trans fatty acids are a health hazard that must be addressed. In fact, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Europe and WHO warns that consumption of about 2% of daily energy intake increases by 23% the risk of a cardiovascular event. In response, health authorities have resolved to take action. In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration of the USA issued a decision stipulating that trans fats were not recognised as generally safe for human consumption anymore. Denmark was the first member country of the EU in 2003 to limit the amount of trans fat in a product, setting the 2% of total fat objective. The question is, why are other countries – and the EU itself – not following these pioneers?
Why do we still find these fats in our food?
The answer is uncertain. What is certain however is that trans fats were brought in during the 1950s as an alternative to animal fats. It was believed that the content of saturated fat in animal products made them less healthy. This advice, which led to the reduction of saturated fat consumption and the rise of trans fat consumption, has been shown to be a colossal mistake. In retrospect, such irony. But the functional properties of partially hydrogenated oils made them very popular with agribusiness companies.
Choosing healthy alternatives
With results as significant as those observed in Denmark, where a recent study showed that cardiovascular health improved more quickly after the measures against trans fats were taken, compared to that of the average in OECD countries, Europe must take the matter in its own hands. For ten years now, many European countries have opted for a restriction of the use of partially hydrogenated oils, pushing towards healthy, natural fats. These include palm oil, which is an entirely rational choice, though often unfairly demonised in the media. Naturally semi-solid at room temperature, it requires no transformation or hydrogenation to be usable by the industry. Its functional properties give it a clear advantage over other less saturated oils, which must be processed. In addition, it contains absolutely no GMOs.
Moreover, and this is probably the most important point, any effort towards the reduction (or elimination) of the consumption of trans fats is a step in the right direction. Several serious studies were able to show that substituting it with saturated or unsaturated fatty acids in human diet represented significant progress.
As for the still-active debate about the impact of saturated fatty acids on health, this is an outdated 50-year old dogma, which is contradicted by dozens of studies. Even for those laggards who have not quite accepted this new paradigm, one certainty remains: unlike saturated fats, trans fats are unanimously recognised as dangerous. The European Parliament’s report is welcome: it needs to be not just words, but a spur to action for all of us across Europe.
France recently introduced a tax specifically directed at palm oil. The new law proposes a tax that will hit palm oil that doesn’t meet ‘sustainability criteria’. There would be an initial tax of EUR90 per tonne on ‘unsustainable’ palm oil. ‘Sustainable’ palm oil would be exempt.
Palm oil producers have for the most part expressed opposition to the tax. Governments – particularly Indonesia’s – have been vocal, pointing out that the law breaks both WTO and EU rules.
So what do the WTO’s rules actually say, and what happens next?
The tax could fall foul of at least two parts of the WTO Agreements.
The first is the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement. To fall foul of the TBT Agreement, the new law must be aimed at an identifiable product (palm oil), lay down a specific characteristic for conformity (sustainability criteria), and be mandatory (a tax applying to all products containing palm oil).
The test is whether the law isn’t more trade restrictive than necessary, and contributes to its purpose – reducing deforestation and preventing biodiversity loss.
But as has been pointed out, it is not the production of palm oil that causes deforestation. It’s the other way round; deforestation occurs that enables palm oil production among other things, including other commodity production and urbanisation. This is a significant distinction.
Similarly, because the law distinguishes between ‘sustainable’ and ‘unsustainable’ palm oil, it would have to be shown that the law reduces the amount of palm oil that isn’t produced sustainably, and then that reduction in unsustainable production contributes to reducing deforestation overall.
Is it possible to demonstrate this? Consider whether the introduction of mandatory sustainability certification in Europe tomorrow would actually mean that deforestation levels in Indonesia fall as a result. Rather, deforestation would continue, and farmers would either send palm oil to different markets, or grow a different crop. Or better yet, maybe they’ll build housing for the 250 million plus people that live in the country, similar to what Europeans so aptly enjoy.
The next part of the TBT that comes into play is national treatment and ‘like products’. The crux of this is whether the product in question can be substituted for other products. In this case, as a vegetable oil, palm oil can be substituted for other products such as rapeseed and sunflower. This has proven to be the case absolutely in the case of products such as Nutella and competing chocolate spreads. The new law treats palm oil less favourably than other products imported from other countries – and therefore falls foul of this agreement.
The second WTO area is the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). It is likely that the proposed law will fail the ‘national treatment’ requirement under the GATT. The crux of this is that an imported product must be given the same treatment as a domestically produced like product – in this case it would be rapeseed or sunflower oil.
It is highly likely that the French government will consider that the law can be saved by ‘general exceptions’ under the GATT relating to human, animal and plant health and the conservation of natural exhaustible resources. But for this to be the case, they must be considered as necessary to do so and the interpretation is quite narrow. Banning the sale of animal parts to save a particular endangered species is an example of a necessary action. As stated above, given that the measures do not contribute directly to the solving problems – deforestation and biodiversity loss – this is unlikely to give France the green light. Similarly, GATT rules states that such measures cannot be used as a disguised restriction on international trade. And given the comments made when the Bill was being debated in French parliament, this is clearly the case.
This is yet another case of Europe finding a way to keep out a product that is a threat to domestic industries under the guise of the environment – and causing economic damage, particularly to small farmers, while it’s at it.
So what happens next?
Any country that produces palm oil can take this to the WTO. In the case of the TBT, it can be raised at a TBT Committee meeting. In the case of the GATT, countries need to open a consultation with France; if a resolution can’t be reached, it will then need to go to the appellate body. But realistically this can’t happen until the Bill becomes a law.
The TBT Committee is a forum where countries issue notifications for laws and rules that may have an impact on other WTO members – even if they’re just in the pipeline.
That France hasn’t done this indicates a clear disregard for the global trading system. Barbara Pompili, Deputy Minister for Biodiversity and Climate, indicated during the French National Assembly vote that this added provision ‘fully respects the WTO treaties’. Nevertheless, it’s reasonably clear that France is fully aware that it takes a while for these cases to be resolved.
In which case, a country like Malaysia or Indonesia could easily dangle the threat of looking at non-French suppliers for defence contracts, or locking French suppliers out of bids on infrastructure projects. Or the next time a European Commissioner travels to Malaysia or Indonesia, let them know that there is no longer interest in an FTA, for as long as France is applying discriminatory taxes on strategic exports.
Paru dans Atlantico: Dans une longue interview accordée au journal Libération, Aurélien Brulé alias Chanee, de l’association « Kalaweit », après avoir dressé un tableau fait de généralisations trompeuses, d’erreurs factuelles et de contradictions en appelle les lecteurs à boycotter l’huile de palme. Pierre Bois D’Enghien défend la filière huile de palme contre les accusations formulées dans le texte.
Pourquoi Chanee s’oppose-t-il à l’huile de palme responsable ?
Dans une longue interview accordée au journal Libération, Aurélien Brulé alias Chanee, de l’association « Kalaweit », après avoir dressé un tableau fait de généralisations trompeuses, d’erreurs factuelles et de contradictions en appelle les lecteurs à boycotter l’huile de palme. En tant qu’auditeur principal RSPO, présent sur les plantations depuis plus de vingt années maintenant, j’ai voulu répondre à ce papier pour que les consommateurs puissent se faire leur propre avis sur ce sujet controversé qu’est l’huile de palme.
A chaque pays sa culture de l’huile de palme
Basé en Indonésie, Chanee, s’appuie sur son expérience personnelle et plus particulièrement sur les faits qu’il a constaté dans certaines plantations autour de lui. Mais il devrait savoir que le palmier à huile est cultivé dans plus de 30 autres pays !
Par conséquent, comment peut-il s’appuyer sur un seul exemple pour nous expliquer « la culture de l’huile de palme » ? Sait-il que, dans le monde, ce sont plus de 3 millions de petits paysans qui travaillent et vivent de l’huile de palme ? Que vont penser les petits producteurs africains qui développent leurs plantations sur des terres inoccupées et n’ont à faire ni à la même faune, ni à la même flore et n’ont pas les mêmes pratiques que les Indonésiens ?
|French MPs voted last week on an additional tax on palm oil. This tax will harm the lives and livelihoods of over 300,000 small farmers in Malaysia for whom oil palm cultivation is an essential lifeline.
Dato’ Haji Aliasak Haji Ambia, President of the National Association of Smallholders Malaysia (NASH) said:
“This tax is unfair, unjustified and discriminatory towards millions of small farmers worldwide. In Malaysia, today, more than one million people would be affected by this damaging new tax. Palm oil is a lifeline for smallholders: it enables them to provide prosperity for their families and communities, lifting them out of poverty.
“The French Government claims to be a friend of the developing world: but this new tax will hurt millions of small farmers and local communities who depend on palm oil. The proposed tax in the French National Assembly is a tax on poor people and a tax on small farmers.”
The social, economic and environmental benefits of palm oil have been recognized across the developing world, with Malaysia as a world-recognized model for smallholder development. 40 per cent of Malaysia’s oil palm is owned or managed by small farmers. Palm oil is one of the most successful poverty alleviation tools in Malaysia, helping to reduce the country’s poverty rate from 50 per cent after independence, to less than 5 per cent today.
|ABOUT HUMAN FACES:
Human Faces of Palm Oil is an international campaign to bring the story of Malaysia’s palm oil small farmers and their prosperity to stakeholders throughout the world. A joint project by the National Association of Smallholders (NASH), the Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (SALCRA) and the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), Human Faces of Palm Oil provides firsthand accounts from palm oil small farmers throughout the country who have benefited economically and socially from oil palm cultivation. For more information about Human Faces of Palm Oil, visit www.facesofpalmoil.org.