The export of palm oil and palm oil products is expected to reach up to RM80 billion this year due to higher production. FILE PIC

A LOT has been written about the anti-palm oil campaigns that are currently underway in Europe. Two facts are really all you need to know.

FACT 1: Palm oil is a major contributor to Malaysia’s economy, society and prosperity. Over 650,000 small farmers rely on oil palm: when children are included, that’s 2.3 million of our fellow Malaysians.

FACT 2: The European Union has confirmed it plans to ban palm oil biofuels, which is a major part of Malaysia’s exports. The ban starts in 2021. That is only three years away.

Where does the EU’s proposed ban come from? It is proposed within the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), an EU law that oversees all rules on renewable energy, including palm oil biofuels. The European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted on the RED in October to ban palm oil biofuels. This decision was later endorsed by the Parliament’s Industry, Research & Energy Committee in a vote in November.

Two consecutive votes in these two European Parliament Committees have now confirmed the plan to ban palm oil biofuels.

The EU lawmaking process on the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) now continues in Brussels. A meeting was held on Dec 18, where EU energy ministers discussed the issue. The ministers — collectively known as the Council — have joint decision-making power with the European Parliament. Over the coming three to six months, those two EU institutions will have many more meetings, negotiations and votes on the RED. They will decide the future of palm oil biofuels in Europe.

This EU ban, if it is implemented, would cause significant harm to ordinary Malaysians, reducing the quality of life of our small farmers, and taking money out of the pockets of communities across Malaysia. We cannot allow this to happen.

Felda is launching a petition to give small farmers a bigger voice in defending the Malaysian palm oil sector. We are also supporting a new campaign — www.FacesofPalmOil.org — to defend Malaysian small farmers against such threats.

The simple two facts remain: Palm oil is essential to our nation and to our communities; and the EU is planning to ban that essential crop.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has led the way with a strong defence of our small farmers and palm oil industry. The prime minister had stated clearly, earlier this year: “We, too, buy products from them. So, whoever boycotts oil palm products, they will face retaliation from us.”

I feel certain that hundreds of thousands of small farmers across Malaysia will be grateful for the prime minister’s support. It is important that a strong message is sent to Europe, about the importance of Malaysia’s small farmers, and how we will defend their livelihoods.

If the EU bans palm oil biofuels under RED, the future of Malaysian biofuel exports would be bleak: billions of ringgit of biofuel exports would simply disappear. That impacts tax revenues, economic growth, and most importantly, it impacts family incomes.

On Tuesday, the New Straits Times reported that Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand would retaliate if the EU’s ongoing discrimination and attack on the palm oil industry becomes legislative.

Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong had said that oil palm planters across Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand deserved equal opportunities to trade and the EU should stop discriminating palm oil in favour of its own rapeseed and sunflower sector.

He also said Malaysia’s 650,000 small farmers’ daily income and livelihoods were stunted by trade barriers put up by developed nations under the guise of environmental protection.

The export of palm oil and palm oil products is expected to reach up to RM80 billion this year due to higher production.

“This year, our planters are hopeful of a higher target of RM80 billion as production is forecast to surpass 20 million tonnes while prices firm up on strong global demand,” Mah had said.

To conclude, the time for talking is over. Now is the time for action, not words. Felda’s smallholders will mobilise to protect the livelihoods of their families and communities.

Some 2.3 million of our fellow Malaysian citizens depend on palm oil. I hope our fellow Malaysians will also do everything they can to support our campaign.

Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad is Felda chairman

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