UK asked to abandon EU palm-oil policies
Malaysia has promised the UK a post-Brexit trade deal if it abandons the European Union’s opposition to environmentally ruinous palm oil.
Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, said if the UK distanced itself from “the European Union’s misguided policy on palm oil” it would be offered an agreement with improved terms.
The UK is due to leave the bloc on October 31 although the controversial process faces numerous complications and London might well remain tied to EU trade policy if it wishes to maintain its economic viability.
The 94-year-old wrote for Bloomberg that “it is wrong to ban one commodity” and labelled the EU’s attention on palm oil as “protectionism”, “modern colonialism” and “bullying”.
The production of palm oil is one of the leading global causes of deforestation, along with being blamed for other environmental and socio-economic damage.
There is an 85-per-cent loss of biodiversity in an ecosystem when plantations are created from the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems. Orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants are losing their habitats and becoming increasingly endangered or extinct.
Rainforest and peatland are cut and burned to create plantations. Peat is extremely rich in carbon so when it is burned stored carbon is released into the atmosphere. Indonesia produces the third-highest greenhouse-gas emissions after China and the US.
The Elaeis guineensis tree grows in the equatorial regions with Malaysia and Indonesia accounting for almost 85 per cent of global palm-oil supplies.
In 2017 the bloc began to phase out biofuels made with palm oil with legislation still slowly working its way through the European Parliament.
Global production of palm oil has increased from 15.2 million tonnes to 62.6 million tonnes between 1995 and 2015, according to Greenpeace.
Palm oil is used in instant noodles, shampoo, ice cream, chocolate, lipstick and factory-made bread.
Some plantations have been accused of using forced or child labour, with workers receiving little or no pay.
Indonesia and Malaysia have both jumped on the EU’s palm-oil policies to bolster their nationalist support with populist rhetoric, rather than addressing the environmental devastation the product causes.
According to the WWF, every hour an area of rainforest the size of 300 football fields is cleared for palm oil to be grown on.
Mahathir said the EU’s palm-oil policies were not environmentally motivated but rather aimed “to protect” agriculture in EU member states.
“If Europe was so concerned about the environmental impact of palm-oil cultivation, why has it just signed a trade deal with South America?” the returning prime minister argued.
“Beef production there represents by far the world’s biggest agricultural cause of deforestation, dwarfing the CO2 emissions caused by palm oil.
“Moreover, EU nations that produce competing oilseeds, such as rapeseed, do so much less efficiently, producing a quarter to one-10th as much oil per unit of land while using more fertiliser and pesticides.
“This blatant hypocrisy is a form of modern colonialism that has no place in today’s world. By using trade as a weapon, the EU is in effect bullying poorer regions of the world,” he added.
The Brexit movement has not prioritised environmental issues. Picture credit: Wikimedia