BRUSSELS: The European Union (EU) is open for engagement to address issues raised by the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC) on the unjust European Union Deforestation Regulation (EUDR), which is detrimental to free and fair trade.

Describing the first ever higher level meetings with the EU as a step forward, Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof (pix) said continuous engagement in the coming months is crucial to safeguard the industry’s interest, especially for the smallholders in Malaysia and Indonesia.

“Overall, I am satisfied as the majority of the EU’s top leaders that we met today agreed with our views with regards to the issues on complying with the EUDR,“ said Fadillah to the Malaysian media after his meeting with five of the EU’s leaders on Wednesday.

Fadillah, who is also the Minister of Plantation and Commodities, is currently in Brussels, Belgium to represent Malaysia in a joint mission with Indonesia in response to the implementation of the EUDR announced by the EU on Dec 6, 2022, which is aimed at preventing deforestation due to agricultural activities.

Indonesia is represented by its Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, Dr. (H.C) Ir. Airlangga Hartarto.

The meeting was with the EU’s Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell-Fontelle as well as the European Commission executive vice-president for the European Green Deal and Climate Action Policy commissioner, Frans Timmermans.

The ministers also met with the European Parliament’s vice-president, Heidi Hautala and Chair of International Trade, Bernd Lange.

Fadillah said the five EU leaders took the views of the CPOPC seriously as it highlighted that discriminatory and unilateral actions such as the EUDR would have a negative impact on the smallholders.

“Even though the law has been passed, we conveyed the CPOPC’s dissatisfaction as the law was made without discussing with the parties affected,” he said.

He added that the CPOPC wants the EU to recognise efforts that have been made towards ensuring the sustainable production of palm oil in producing countries in coming up with the guidelines for the EUDR.

For Malaysia, these include initiatives to stop cultivation in peatland areas and tightening regulations on existing oil palm plantations on peatland, banning the conversion of forest reserves for oil palm cultivation, and the pledge to provide a map of oil palm plantations for public access.

Fadillah also highlighted that Malaysia had announced its commitment to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.

The country is also committed to maintaining at least 50 per cent forest cover as pledged at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, he said, adding that currently, Malaysia’s forest cover is at 55.3 per cent.

He also emphasised that the Malaysian government is committed to key policies related to sustainable palm oil.

Task force, discussions

“The leaders we met earlier have agreed in principle to engage (with the CPOPC) through dialogues or a task force or whatever mechanism that will be agreed on later,” said Fadillah.

He added that Hautala had shared that the EU has had similar dialogues with players from the cocoa industry.

“It can be done. So, we will discuss the way forward,” he said.

The deputy prime minister said that any mechanism that will be used in the future needs to involve producing countries, industry players, representatives from non-governmental organisations and smallholders so that there will be clarity in terms of the guidelines issued and will not marginalise any party in the value chain.

He added that the EU representatives will be coming to Indonesia and Malaysia to engage with the stakeholders.

“We will discuss the details with regard to the technicalities that we had highlighted, and hopefully they will take our views into account in issuing the guidelines later on,“ he said.

The joint mission with the government of Indonesia under the CPOPC was Fadillah’s first official visit to the EU.

Malaysia and Indonesia are major contributors to the world’s palm oil market, as both countries account for 80 per cent of the market. -Bernama