Latest from Brussels

POM’s intel sources in Brussels indicate the EU’s Deforestation Criteria drafting process is well underway. They also indicate that the EU expert visit to Southeast Asia has done little to change the anti-palm flavor of the new regulation.

Here’s what we know about the delegated act so far.

First, as we reported last week, the Commission will propose that all first-generation oilseed crops will be assumed to be ‘high risk’ under the Deforestation Criteria.

The Deforestation Criteria effectively acts as a filter: if the crop passes, then it moves through the filter to become ‘low risk’. If it does not meet the Deforestation Criteria, it remains high risk and is subject to an immediate freeze on imports.

Second, a key element in determining the criteria will be the phrase ‘significant expansion’ of feedstocks on high carbon stock areas.

What we don’t know is what ‘significant’ actually means. The June compromise stated where ‘significant expansion … is observed’. It’s also not clear whether this is forward- or backward-looking.

Is it going to be ‘significant’ in relation to the expansion of all agriculture on HCS areas? Or only in relation to other biofuels?

Assuming the RED cut-off date of 2008 will be retained, the EU will be looking to bring in criteria that label palm oil’s expansion since 2008 as ‘significant’ – but the expansion of other crops, such as rapeseed, will be spared (primarily because it will be deemed as not affecting HCS areas).

Is ‘significant’ going to mean only from particular countries? For example, would Nigeria’s non-expansion of oil palm estates be punished for expansion of oil palm in Colombia?

If such a diverse group is lumped together and uniformly labelled ‘high risk’ by the EU. It’s important to note that this would be a departure from the current EU sustainability criteria under RED, where certification is achievable by individual companies, through the EU’s approved certification schemes.

Third, there is likely to be room for bilateral arrangements in the regulation. Trying to isolate feedstocks by country will bring up problems at the WTO. But clearly this would be a preferred option. This is one of the reasons DG Trade has been giving DG Energy such a difficult time in the drafting process.

One of the ways countries are able to resolve this problem of treating countries differently is by undertaking ‘good faith’ negotiations with their trading partners and, if possible, reaching an agreement.

A sign of good faith in this instance might be leaving room for bilateral negotiations and a potential agreement in the new regulation.

There is still a way to go with this drafting process. The EU is attempting to balance protection for its farmers with its rather obsessive and narrow global environmental objective, i.e. reduce carbon emissions.  For the past ten years it has failed. Numerous multilateral agreements – the WTO, UNFCCC, SDGs – expressly warn against or prohibit the use of environmental rules as a form of protectionism. The RED is a very good example of why it’s a path best avoided.


RSPO Daily Update – 13th November 2018

The first day of this year’s RSPO Roundtable took place today and POM is reporting daily from Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia. We won’t give you a full breakdown of the day’s events, just key points from the day’s presentations and proceedings.

This year’s RT is significant because of the 5-year review of the Principles and Criteria. Everything that happens at this meeting shapes RSPO’s rules for the next five years. Consequently, there’s a lot of lobbying and pressure being put on members to vote in a particular way.

Day One comprised ‘Preparatory Clusters’; this was about giving delegates background on proposals being voted on in the General Assembly.

Here are the day’s takeaways.

Smallholders are still on the fringe. The smallholder session bore out the fact that RSPO hasn’t come close to meeting its smallholder inclusion targets – originally 1.2 million families by 2018. Companies such as Musim Mas and NGOs such as Wild Asia pointed out that certification for smallholders might be the end goal, but it’s very far from the entry point. According to both, most farmers are still struggling to have productive and profitable farms, let alone trying to be ‘sustainable’. The daily concern of farmers isn’t anything to do with certification; it’s prices. One great call came from Wild Asia, which called on the big brands to get more involved in the smallholder story.

Uptake targets continue to be a problem. The ‘progress’ session looked at whether the organisation’s uptake and production targets are being met and what can be done to change them. In the EU breakout group, some interesting points were raised. First, although the uptake on paper might only be 55 per cent, it may be higher; not all RSPO-certified palm is being sold as certified palm. Some of it is being sold as ISCC, and therefore not registering. Second, a lot of the ‘final quarter’ of uptake in the EU is made problematic by palm oil’s diverse industrial applications in Europe. Third, many food producers simply don’t want to highlight their use of palm oil in the EU, even if it comes from RSPO – that’s how far negative perceptions have gone.

RSPO may be trying to do everything. There’s a call for ‘shared responsibility’ all along the supply chain. This is the idea that producer commitments on labour and other social outcomes should be mirrored by other companies that are further downstream. This is a noble pursuit in that it places equal responsibility on all participants. However, there is the likelihood that it will simply scare off new players. This highlights the tension throughout the RSPO itself; tighter rules might achieve a better outcome, but they will inevitably exclude some participants.

The HCSA-HCV process still excludes smallholders. The HCSA-HCV integrated approach will likely be introduced as of the vote on Friday. The objective is to ‘de-link’ palm oil from deforestation. However, the rules for HCSA and smallholders are still yet to be defined. According to the HCSA proponents, the goal is to come up with a simplified HCSA approach that looks more like a checklist than an assessment; and HCS-HCV assessments will be left off for smallholders. The timeline for the checklist is mid-2019, but this seems overly ambitious. Moreover, given the problems that RSPO has had attempting to include smallholders, is this going to make things any better?

RSPO still doesn’t understand anti-palm campaigns. UK purchasers of palm oil and palm products – represented by UK retailers – apparently believe that tighter standards and the ‘no deforestation’ approach will end attacks on palm oil and anti-palm oil statements from companies such as Iceland. This is about as naïve as it gets. This was one of the motivations for RSPO being set up in the first place – and the attacks continue. Both purchasers and Greenpeace appear to believe that slogans such as ‘Drop Dirty Palm Oil’ make enough of a distinction for the public between ‘good’ palm oil and ‘bad’.  Greenpeace are communications experts; they know full well that there’s nothing positive in a slogan like that.

We’ll have a full summary of Day Two’s plenaries with you tomorrow.


Palm Oil Monitor Weekly Update – 12th November 2018

RSPO GA Preview

The RSPO Roundtable and General Assembly takes place this week in Kota Kinabalu. Although much of the outreach and public activity takes place at the Roundtable meeting, the General Assembly is where the more substantial decisions are made via proposed resolutions. The revised Principles and Criteria are the most significant item on the agenda, but there are others worth noting, as well as specifics within the revised P&Cs.

  • Third-party supplier lists: A resolution to have RSPO members that are procuring palm oil to publish all suppliers into their supply chain. This will provide greater transparency in supply chains.
  • Discouraging member withdrawal: This aims to prevent companies selling down their stakes in a subsidiary once it is subject to a RSPO complaint. Although there is some logic to this, it is also the precise opposite of everything that the divestment movement is aiming to achieve.
  • Extending the smallholder initiative group: The work around smallholders and smallholder inclusion remains – unsurprisingly – incomplete; this aims to continue this work.
  • Delinking auditors from companies: This aims to have the payment link between companies and auditors severed. Several NGOs see this as a problem. However, the solution arguably lies in RSPO’s governance structure itself. RSPO and Accreditation Services International (ASI) have a services and license agreement. This means the governing body (RSPO) has an exclusive relationship with the accreditation body, and not an arms’ length separation. Most other industries – from food safety auditing to automobiles – have no problems with the ‘user pays’ model. This is arguably because accreditors (i.e. International Accreditation Forum members) are completely separate from standard developers (ISO and national standards bodies).
  • Revised P&C – No Deforestation, No Peat:  The Deforestation Working Group within RSPO has put forward new criteria for high carbon stock. In short, the new criteria will prevent any new plantings on areas assessed as ‘high carbon stock’ after the meeting. The crucial factor here is the assessment methodology, which is the HCSA Toolkit (largely written by the HCSA Steering Committee) and the HCS-HCV Assessment Manual (written by Proforest). It’s worth remembering that HCS under these definitions covers most – if not all – forest types, including young regenerating forest.  There is one caveat here, and that’s for local groups and indigenous groups in high forest cover countries, i.e. countries with greater than 60 per cent of forest cover, but less than 1 per cent oil palm cover. In addition, there is a new prohibition on planting on peat of any depth.
  • Revised P&C – Labour: -The labour requirements in the revised P&C are much more prescriptive and require greater levels of record keeping and compliance by members (see below).

Will these resolutions and revisions be approved? Different members have different interests. The RSPO’s larger members have no problem pushing up compliance levels; they are easily able to absorb the costs. Smaller operators will be more resistant. The prohibitions on forest clearing and peat will prevent any new expansions, which might be problematic for smaller players.

The RSPO Board of Governors is neutral or undecided on many of the proposals; the revised P&Cs is a clear exception.

Corley: Does RSPO have a future?

Dr RHV Corley – arguably the most knowledgeable plant physiologist in the world when it comes to oil palm – has asked whether RSPO has a future. Now it needs to be made clear that Corley is an unavowed supporter of RSPO. But he raises three points about where certification is headed in the future. He writes:

“The profusion of different standards seems likely to undermine the RSPO. Thus we have MSPO and ISPO introducing more grower-friendly versions of the original RSPO P&C, while RSPO Next and the POIG aim to raise standards.

One must wonder for how long major plantation companies will accept the limitations on new developments imposed by RSPO Next and the POIG, when certified oil constitutes such a small percentage of total palm oil sales.

The limitations on development risk destroying the historic role that oil palm cultivation has played in poverty alleviation throughout the humid tropics. It must be recognised that agricultural expansion is the only viable route to economic development in some countries.”

Corley argues that the continued path of certification will only mean that RSPO will become more of a niche product. For this he considers NGOs and food manufacturers to be largely responsible via their push for higher standards rather than broader inclusion.

The solution, as he sees it, is greater uptake. The strongest point he makes is as follows:

“Perhaps members who are users should be obliged to put forward, and be audited against, time-bound plans to move to 100% certified oil, just as producers are audited on time-bound plans for all their production to be certified. Some members have published plans, but these have been voluntary, and are not a requirement of RSPO membership.”

It’s a pity this wasn’t something advanced in 2018 for the GA; perhaps NGOs, producers and purchasers could push for this in 2019.

CGF: An Own-Goal on Labour

In the lead-up to the RT, the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) published a report on labour issues within the palm oil supply chain. The report is the result of the CGF’s Social Committee, which is headed up by Unilever and Marks and Spencer.

The report itself contains very little in the way of on-ground knowledge; it is largely a desk survey informed by a large number of ‘grey literature’ reports on alleged labour problems within the palm oil supply chain. Many of these reports were put forward when US labour organisations were lobbying against Malaysia’s inclusion in the Trans Pacific Partnership in 2014 and 2015. It also draws on some stakeholder consultations. But the study limitations are mentioned in the report itself, almost as a footnote. The key weaknesses are:

  • Lack of overview of labor recruitment processes from the home locations of migrant workers to palm estates;

  • Lack of analysis of the internal human and labor rights management systems that the company, palm oil companies, and plantations have. While some overview of companies’ programs is publicly available in their respective annual reports, no independent third party review of their program is available.

In other words, the researchers did not assess how migrant workers are recruited, and nor how they are managed. But it also doesn’t address the drivers of undocumented migration to countries like Malaysia, where economic opportunities are better than in many countries in the region.

And before European companies get righteous about their labour record, note the following from the Financial Times:

“Fairwork Belgium, an organisation that helps to protect [undocumented workers] from exploitative employers, is contacted by hundreds of undocumented workers every year, many of them Brazilians and Moroccans. Jan Knockaert, co-ordinator at Fairwork, says he has even handled cases for construction workers who helped to build the EU’s headquarters. “Undocumented workers have been involved in building the new European Council building and the crèche of the European Parliament, as well as cleaning the [Belgian] Palais de Justice,” he says.”

It’s a fair assumption that the report was published to generate support for revised labour principles and criteria under the RSPO. This isn’t unreasonable, but it is very risky. Whether CGF likes it or not, this document will now be used by any number of anti-palm oil campaigners to smear the industry – and the commodity more broadly. And those campaigners don’t care whether palm oil is RSPO-certified or not.

KPK, PT SMART and HCS: A rocky road ahead?

There were several news reports last week that Sinar Mas’ palm oil arm – PT SMART/Golden-Agri —  is under investigation by Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency (KPK) , following the arrest of a number of its staff, including a director.

The big question: Is this going to present a problem for SMART’s role in other forums?

SMART has been one of the leading members of the High Carbon Stock Steering Group, and has been instrumental alongside Greenpeace in generating support for the initiative. The HCS Group has a strongly worded ‘zero tolerance’ anti-corruption policy in place, which states that it applies to staff, contractors “or any other person or persons associated with us (including third parties)”, among others.

The investigation and arrest follows a number of policy developments that have impacted the HCS Group’s other leading sponsor, Asia Pulp and Paper, also part of the Sinar Mas Group. In May, Greenpeace stated it was tearing up its ‘non-campaign’ understanding with APP after accusations of widespread peat clearances were levelled against the company. In August, the Forest Stewardship Council (the timber and paper equivalent of RSPO) also said it was halting its process to have APP readmitted to the organisation based on the same information.

Could it also present a problem with its RSPO membership?

RSPO P&Cs require companies to have policies and audit controls in place to prevent corruption. This may be questionable now given that the alleged bribery was undertaken at such a high level.

But the bigger problem now lies with the HCS Group. In the past three months, the group’s most prominent companies have come under fire publicly for alleged environmental and/or governance problems.

Neither the HCS Group nor Greenpeace have made any statements on the KPK investigation.

Greenpeace has never hesitated in piling on when it comes to environmental accusations against companies. Is corruption less important? Questions, questions.

WWF says consumers confused on palm, then adds to the confusion

In the lead up to the Annual Roundtable Conference of Sustainable Palm Oil 16 (RT 16), WWF is placing a greater emphasis on consumer demand. It’s calling on brands to do more, particularly in light of gaps in RSPO uptake in Europe.  It also says “consumers are confused” about conflicting messages on palm oil.

WWF is only adding to that confusion.

Last week they released their ‘Living Planet’ report for 2018. The report is best described as a stocktake of habitat and biodiversity. The paper is a distilled summary of the work of conservation biologists around the world. Some of the numbers reported are alarming, for example, a 60 per cent decline in species numbers around the global since 1970.

However, like an addiction, WWF singles out palm oil – and very subtly. There is a full page picture for the opening of “Chapter 2: The threats and pressures wiping out our world”. The image choice is of an oil palm plantation in Malaysia. A full-page splash on consumption habits calls out the use of palm oil in supermarket products.

Just a reminder: The deforestation footprint for livestock is ten times that of palm oil. Soy’s is twice that of palm. Maize’s footprint is larger than palm’s.

No wonder consumers are confused.

TPP Ratification: Will Malaysia join?

The CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership) Agreement will come into force before the end of the year. The Agreement has been triggered by ratification of six member countries, the last of which was Australia. The remaining five signatories will need to submit their own ratification instruments for the agreement to apply.

As we’ve pointed out before, the CPTPP could provide some benefits for palm oil exporters – the most significant of which in CPTPP (by far) is Malaysia.

Earlier this year, Moodys Research stated:

“Malaysia will prove the biggest winner from the revised agreement, because the deal will provide export access into new markets, including Canada, Peru and Mexico; benefiting palm oil, rubber and electronics exporters.”

Tariffs on palm oil going to Canada and Mexico will fall, which will likely see increased demand in both countries.

Our understanding is that the Malaysian government is reviewing its position on the CPTPP. It will weigh up any positive and negative impacts across all sectors — not just palm oil.

Colombia joins the effort to oppose EU’s RED

Governments in palm oil exporting countries appear prepared to step up their activity against the European Union’s revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED).

Malaysian Deputy Minister of Primary Industries Datuk Seri Shamsul Iskandar Mohd Akin announced last week that Colombia is prepared to join with Malaysia and Indonesia in facing off with the EU.

The Deputy Minister stated that the government has approved a significant budget — RM23.4 million —  for campaign activities. This was in the lead up to a CPOPC meeting scheduled for early November.

At the same time, Indonesian trade director Tri Purnajaya issued a statement underlining the significance of palm oil to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Indonesia.  First, as the country’s largest export commodity, second as a renewable energy source, and third, as a source of employment.

Referring to the revised RED, Pak Tri stated, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will not remain idle facing the barrage of attacks faced by the national palm oil industry.”

UK puts out post-Brexit feelers to ASEAN

The UK is upping its trade diplomacy in the ASEAN region in advance of its exit from the European Union. UK Secretary of State for Trade Liam Fox met Indonesia’s Minister for Trade Development Enggar Lukita on the sidelines of the China International Import Expo in Shanghai. The two ministers declared their general opposition to ongoing US-China trade tensions.

George Hollingbery, the UK’s Trade Deputy is likely to meet with Malaysia’s Trade Minister Darrell Leiking. Both ASEAN countries will seek to expand their exports of commodities to the UK, particularly palm oil. The UK for its part has been emphasising military and government procurement programs in its trade push into the Asia-Pacific region.

Will it be possible for both countries to see eye to eye? The UK imports around 40 per cent of its palm oil from Papua New Guinea, specifically from New Britain Palm Oil (NBPOL), a division of Sime Darby. NBPOL established a segregated supply chain and refinery going into the UK market. The remainder of the trade is from Indonesia and Malaysia. Both countries will be seeking better trading conditions with the UK, but also guarantees that the UK Government will not impose regulatory barriers to palm oil.

Unlike much of Continental Europe the UK doesn’t have a significant oilseed producing sector attempting to erect trade barriers – it just has a very vocal green sector, which could undermine the UK’s trade push if it rubs up against the future palm oil trade.

Indonesia EU negotiations

The EU-Indonesia trade agreement negotiations continued in October; the European Commission has released an update for stakeholders on negotiation progress. However, the update contained very little and is best described as ‘diplomatic’. There is little doubt that the negotiations have been tainted somewhat by the EU’s aggressive stance on palm oil in the Renewable Energy Directive, particularly the bloc’s refusal to accommodate Indonesia’s notification requests in the WTO.

The round followed an announcement in mid-October that Malaysia and the EU will sign a PCA (Partnership and Cooperation Agreement) in January. PCAs are the prerequisite for broader trade agreements. The contain very little that is specific; they are generally principles-based, with a view to greater levels of cooperation. They don’t prevent trade disputes; the EU-Indonesia PCA was signed in 2014 and FTA negotiations began in 2016. Disputes between the EU and Indonesia – particularly over palm oil – have continued unabated since then.


Indonesia Sounds Alarm over Brussels’ Biofuels Trojan Horse

This week, according to our sources, the European Commission will officially start drafting the Delegated Act outlining the ‘Deforestation Criteria’ for the Renewable Energy Directive.

In advance, POM has received an exclusive copy of Indonesia’s ‘non-paper’ critique of RED II’s use of indirect land-use change (ILUC) in the upcoming revision of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED).

The paper opens by stating:

 “The Government of Indonesia (GOI) does not wish to be associated to the ILUC Study as it is not a globally accepted environmental standard and it is highly controversial in that different models have different outcomes … From the perspective of the GOI, ILUC represents a political compromise within RED II to address first generation biofuels in the EU”.

It goes on to underline ILUC’s ‘limited credibility’, but it offers an area of cooperation to the EU: the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The approach is simple: we’ll go along with your study if you acknowledge palm oil’s significant contributions to poverty reduction and sustainable development more broadly.

 “[…]Indonesia considers that the production of first generation biofuels is essential to meeting the SDGs by 2030 … The GOI is willing to consider an independent Indonesian based study that would asses the relevance of ILUC within the framework of the SDGs; and the extent to which criteria from SDGs could be applied within ILUC to lend some global credibility to the works being undertaken”.

The problem for Indonesia and for any countries exporting biofuels and biofuel feedstocks to the European Union is that the European Commission has been decidedly opaque about how they are going to assess the ‘ILUC risks’ of different biofuels.

At this stage, there’s nothing to critique. There’s no way for exporters to assess what sort of impacts or how credible the EU approach will be. Mistrust of the EU has been amplified by several announcements of a palm oil ‘phase out’.

Despite repeated requests by Malaysia, Indonesia and other exporting nations for transparency on any future regulations at the World Trade Organization, the Commission has not been forthcoming.

We have received reliable information that the Directorate-General for Trade (DG Trade) is leaning heavily on DG Energy, which is drafting the regulations and criteria. This is because most things the Commission is attempting to do on biofuels will fall afoul of the WTO’s Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement.

At the last formal TBT meeting at the WTO, Indonesia directly asked the question: “[Is] the intention of such a ban, in whole or in part, to give preference to domestically produced rapeseed oil?”

At that meeting the issue was raised by Malaysia, followed up by Indonesia, with Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Thailand all piling on afterwards.

So what regulatory approach will the EU end up taking?

The EU prefers a precautionary approach to regulation. It prefers to place the onus on importers to prove a lower risk. It has used this approach for animal welfare, hormones and timber imports.

For ‘illegal’ timber imports, the Commission established a risk assessment tool for importers themselves. The idea is that importers of those products assess the risks of those products being harvested. If the assessment points to a high risk, then it becomes an offense to then import the products. But the implicit assumption is that everything is high risk; the onus really is on importers to prove otherwise.

And with our knowledge of the illegal timber debate, we now understand the Commission’s grand strategy to block and discriminate against palm oil.

Here’s the problem: assessing risk of illegality (e.g. non-payment of royalties or taxes, environmental permits, etc.) is significantly different from assessing the risk of indirect land-use change which, as many technical studies have pointed out, can’t be observed directly.

Every study commissioned by the Commission on ILUC points to the interconnectedness of food and feed markets. Soybean oil and palm oil are interchangeable in Asian food markets, as well as in biofuel markets; soybean and rapeseed are interchangeable in biofuel and feed markets.

For this reason, we think it’s reasonable to assume the Commission do the following:

  • First, it will label all feed and fuel crops as ‘high risk’ under the new Deforestation Criteria. At the same time, it will publish its set of criteria for sustainability or deforestation certification schemes, as previously announced.  These criteria will determine either which existing schemes are acceptable, or determine what these schemes should look like.

This approach will naturally favour domestic producers or producers from developed countries that will have systems in place to track and trace feedstocks from their source, and will be able to ‘prove’ low risk.

  • Second, we can expect the ‘freeze’ period (2019 to 2023) to give European producers enough time to get their houses and certification schemes in order.

It will also give European some farmers time to introduce “Yield increases in agricultural sectors through improved agricultural practises, investments into better machinery and knowledge transfer” that “mitigate indirect land-use change”.

  • Third, the RED compromise text also calls for the Commission to establish “A European database … to ensure transparency and traceability of renewable fuels … in order to ensure instant data transfers and harmonisation of data flows”.

Exporting countries – particularly developing countries – will face more difficulty in terms of the cost of certification, any implementation, and providing data to EU regulators.

While certified palm oil may eventually find its way back into the RED – along with rapeseed and other biofuel feedstocks – the damage may well have been done. EU producers are more likely to be certified as ‘low risk’ first. The result will be a major disruption to trade in palm oil to the EU.

Past experiences with different commodities – dairy and other agricultural products, energy and resources – have shown on many occasions the protectionist function that non-tariff barriers can serve. It’s not about keeping a particular import out for good; it’s about disrupting trade frequently enough to add a considerable cost to competitors and strengthen domestic incumbents.

For example, if competition from imported energy is too harsh, authorities will alter the testing regime. If meat products are threatening local players, authorities will change quarantine requirements or announce a contamination threat.

It can take a long time for disruptions to get resolved at a local level or through international channels.

The EU doesn’t misuse these mechanisms the way some countries do, but they – like everyone else – are not immune to looking after the narrow interests of their own farmer groups.

Brussels’ Trojan Palm Oil Horse

There’s a final leg to this, and it relates to the Deforestation Criteria. This is Europe’s Trojan Horse strategy for palm oil.

Once the Deforestation Criteria are established for feed- and food-based biofuels, it is completely reasonable to assume that they will be applied to feed and food crops. After all, the ILUC risk assessment will probably not just assess the risk of their end use, but of their broader consumption.

The Commission has already been tasked with assessing the feasibility of policy options for reducing the EU’s imported deforestation footprint under the Deforestation Action Plan.

A push to use these Deforestation Criteria in a broader instrument, i.e. not just biofuels, is not just convenient, it’s logical.

If this sounds far-fetched, it’s worth remembering that this push to limit market access for imported biofuel feedstocks has been going on for more than a decade. It has gone through the EU’s energy regulations and its trade defence systems at the EU-wide level, with national and sub-national governments putting in their own measures against palm oil.

It’s also worth remembering that Brussels doesn’t know how to wind back regulations; what it’s good at is increasing them. Really good.

For now, this is only about biofuels. But after February, this is going to get a whole lot bigger.


Palm Oil Monitor Weekly Update – 30th October 2018

The Amsterdam Declaration’s Subtle Shift

The recent European Palm Oil Alliance meeting in Spain brought the Amsterdam Declaration back into the spotlight.

The Amsterdam Declaration was set with great fanfare in 2015. The target set under the non-binding ‘agreement’ back then was for 100 per cent imports of certified sustainable palm oil, i.e. all palm oil exported to signatory countries by 2020 would be CSPO. Signatories included the UK, France, Germany, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway. All countries signed in 2015, with the exception of Italy, which signed in 2017. One of the biggest palm importers and users in Europe –Spain – is yet to sign up.

On paper, the rationale of the Declaration was that greater demand for sustainable palm oil in signatory countries would spur sustainable production.

When the Amsterdam Declaration was written, it was a product of the Netherlands Presidency of the Council of the EU. Officials from the Dutch government produced a ‘non paper’ in which they stated that their intent was to have the Amsterdam Declaration included as part of a trade agreement with Indonesia. Dutch officials were seeking to have a common EU position on imports of palm oil.

The EU is still the major market for CSPO, but the 100 per cent target hasn’t been filled according to Amsterdam Declaration representatives.  However, we don’t think that’s far off; mandatory national certification schemes likes MSPO and ISPO will likely push the target even closer. There will be some risk for European officials to declare oil certified under either scheme as ‘unsustainable’.

However,  Amsterdam Declaration officials also said recently that the key to closing the gap is:

“better harmonization between supply chain initiatives and jurisdictional approaches in countries for examples Malaysia and Indonesia – and to reward those approaches.”

In other words, the Amsterdam Declaration grouping is arguing that if there are greater commitments by exporting governments on sustainability, the gap will be met. Are the promoters of the Amsterdam Declaration arguing that producer countries are not doing enough?  Yes, apparently.

It shouldn’t matter – according to the Amsterdam Declaration – that palm oil going from Malaysia or Indonesia to somewhere like China is or isn’t certified under MSPO or RSPO or ISPO. The Amsterdam Declaration, at least on paper, is only about Europe. However, this focus on jurisdictional approach has rather showed the hand of those pushing the Declaration. It makes it clear that the intent is wider – it points to this entire debate being about regulating global palm oil production under a European regulatory approach, no matter where it comes from or goes to.

A couple of conclusions can be drawn.

First, the Amsterdam Declaration is trying to make itself relevant. Its targets have largely been filled. RED regulation has solved – and may tighten up – the ‘problem’ of sustainability in renewable fuels.

Second, Amsterdam Declaration advocates and their allies may consider that public campaigns that shame companies into using CSPO work in their favour. They don’t. They simply end up smearing the industry as a whole and support a narrative taken up by some Parliamentarians in Brussels (and elsewhere) that all palm oil is bad.

Third, and related to this, is that the Amsterdam approach considers the ‘gap’ on sustainable imports to be the problem for palm oil’s ‘image’, and they see the way to solve this is in producer countries. This isn’t the case at all. EU Parliamentarians have made it clear in the RED debate that they don’t like certification: RSPO, MSPO, ISPO or otherwise. This is precisely why there’s a push in Brussels to have all palm oil – certified or otherwise — labelled as ‘high risk’.  Even if a 100 per cent target was hit tomorrow, palm oil would still be attacked.

What then is the new goal of proponents of the Amsterdam Declaration?  Increasingly, it looks like it will become a vehicle to support EU regulation of agriculture outside of the EU, which the Commission is actively working on.

EU Agreements Progress in the ASEAN Region

The EU has made some progress with various trade and partnership agreements in the ASEAN region.

First, the EU and Singapore signed a trifecta of trade, investment and cooperation agreements. Although this represents a step with the region’s most developed economy, the Singapore agreement is very much about services and investment. Singapore’s economy is dominated by services; with manufacturing (mostly chemicals) making up much of the remainder. Not having to undertake any negotiations on agriculture has made the process relatively straightforward. That said, ratification via the Parliament and member states may present difficulties.

Similarly, the Vietnam-EU trade deal, which was also submitted for approval, will need to get through the Parliament and the member states. There has already been some consternation among EU nations regarding Vietnam’s human rights record.

Finally, the EU also completed a forest law enforcement, governance and trade (FLEGT) agreement with Vietnam. The completion follows a path set by Indonesia, which was signed in 2013. The agreement took another four years to reach implementation stage. FLEGT agreements require an export licensing process that is based on verification of the legality of timber harvesting and processing. Coming up with a FLEGT-style agreement has also been suggested for palm oil exports, though this would be particularly difficult.

The relative ease with which the EU has completed its agreements with Vietnam can be partly attributed to a communist government; when governments have control of all major industries, it’s difficult for large incumbent companies to object – which is often the case in Indonesia.

The EU’s Ace on Imported Biodiesel

The EU has decided not to introduce punitive tariffs against biofuels from Argentina, which are the subject of a countervailing duties (CVD) investigation.  The European Commission initially found that the Argentine export industry received subsidies – and should therefore be subject to tariffs when entering the EU. However, the EU has decided to hold off until its investigations have uncovered more information.

The investigation came directly after the WTO declared that antidumping duties imposed on Argentinean and Indonesian biofuels were illegal.  It was requested by the European Biodiesel Board (EBB).

EU oilseed producers and processors have – obviously – reacted negatively to the development. The flood of imported biodiesel has given EU processors to cut output.

This will place additional pressure on EU rapeseed and oilseed producers in the meantime.

However, is the EU’s holding off a sign of things to come? It’s quite possible that the EU’s ace is to find a way to block imported feedstocks under the guise of being ‘high risk’ for land use change. The February deadline for the Commission’s ‘deforestation criteria’ is only months away.


Palm Oil Monitor Weekly Update – 25th October 2018

African Farmers and RED Gain Attention

Our colleague Thompson Ayodele from the Initiative for Public Policy Analysis in Nigeria has highlighted the EU’s attitude towards palm oil and the new ‘risk’ framework they’re attempting to impose on palm oil. His view is in line with ours; the ‘risk’ approach is not about compliance with specific rules for imported goods; it’s about imposing EU principles on production.

Thompson worked with us on the Nigerian case study for the HCS Study commissioned by the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto.

Thompson’s view – unsurprisingly – is much more informed by smallholder concerns for the African sector, and the general indignity caused by the EU approach. He writes in both Euractiv and Nigeria’s Punch:

[The Deforestation Criteria framework] poses an existential threat to farmers who rely on palm oil: the EU essentially wants to designate millions of developing world farmers as ‘risky’. This kind of signal would be devastating for future trade, investment, and employment.  Furthermore, declaring palm oil risky is a disrespect to millions of farmers.

We suspect that Brussels hadn’t expected this African perspective to get an airing. However, the EU Commission needs to understand that its approach is gaining negative attention well beyond Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur.

Indonesian Lawmakers Hit Greenpeace

Indonesian parliamentarian Firman Subagyo has hit out at the recent actions by Greenpeace in Indonesia, specifically its attacks on Wilmar.

Firman told reporters, “We do not value this commodity enough. Why do we have to defend it? Because it relates to our national competitiveness. The government and the people of Indonesia should not allow negative campaigns to affect our national pride.”

Indonesian government officials have hit out at Greenpeace in the past. In 2011 Greenpeace Director John Sauven was refused entry into Indonesia because of ‘smear campaigns’ against the country’s timber and forest industries.

This was at a period when Greenpeace’s relationships with some of the country’s largest commodity producers hit a clear low.

In response, Greenpeace has stated – once again – that it is ‘not anti-palm oil’. Again, this is difficult to believe when the organisation is flatly saying ‘Drop Dirty Palm Oil’.

The hypocrisy of Greenpeace in this instance is breathtaking. They state due to the behaviour of companies like Wilmar, “Indonesian palm oil commodities are at risk of being banned by countries in the European Union.” Of course, that would have nothing to do with Greenpeace’s anti-palm oil campaigns across Europe, would it?

France follows Greenpeace

The French Government appears to be following the Greenpeace tactic of maintaining that they’re ‘not anti-palm oil’.

French President Emmanuel Macron has unveiled his new cabinet team following a reshuffle of his government. Former Public Affairs Director of Danone Emmanuelle Wargon was named Deputy Environment Minister. Wargon has previously publicly stated her quite balanced views on palm oil in a video from her time at the company.

The video buzzed on social media following her appointment, which was met with harsh criticism from NGOs that didn’t approve the appointment of a “lobbyist” from the private sector with pro-palm oil views.

This led the French government’s spokesperson Mr. Benjamin Griveaux to quickly state that the new Deputy Environment Minister will have to follow the roadmap of the government which is to “fight against palm oil”.

A choice of words that was quickly followed by the French Foreign Affairs Ministry’s updated position via a press briefing post that stated:

The government is not combating the production of palm oil as such. It is the fight against deforestation and climate change that are our priorities: When its production fails to meet certain sustainability criteria, palm oil can lead to significant direct and indirect deforestation, in the same way as other agricultural products.

However, we couldn’t help notice the combination of the following in France: antipathy to anti-palm oil labelling; introducing the ‘Nutella tax’ not once, but twice;  the flagging of a sustainability commission for palm oil; a statement by the former French environment minister that palm would be banned from biofuels.

France has confirmed it will support the ongoing work by the European Commission on palm oil. But does this mean their anti-palm oil stance will be reflected in the European Commission’s deforestation criteria, i.e. banning palm oil biofuels? If this is the case, this week’s visit to Malaysia by EU officials will be nothing more than a public relations exercise.

How Sustainable are Sustainability Indices?

S&P’s sustainability indices came under fire this week, with campaign groups arguing that the inclusion of palm producer Golden Agri was ‘greenwashing’. This claim is based on controversy surrounding GAR’s operations in Liberia.

We’re not in a position to comment on the GAR situation in Africa, but it’s difficult to make generalisations on an index based on the behaviour of one company. So, how does the A&P index perform?

The index is actually put together by RobecoSAM, a sustainability consultancy. The methodology the company uses is based on what it described as financially material sustainability criteria.

Financially material criteria vary from governance to supply chain management to environmental stewardship and cash/capital management, among other things.

These criteria are weighted according to industry. So, product safety will matter more in a consumer goods company than it will in a commodity producer. And from there, indicators are used for each company, with the total number ranging between 80 and 120, based on qualitative and quantitative data.

In other words, there is a reasonably robust framework in place that assesses companies across the board.

So, for a campaign group to label an entire index as potentially fraudulent is a bit of a cheap shot. Clearly, they wanted to attack the GAR operations, but concluded that the best way to do it was by attacking the index.

Investors are clearly going to take the word of the index over that of Friends of the Earth.

It’s important to realise the end goal here. They’re not seeking to have S&P drop or change the methodology, or even change investor sentiment; they’re seeking to have Golden Agri turfed from the index.


Palm Oil Monitor Weekly Update – 15th October 2018

Nestle: Who Needs Greenpeace?

Greenpeace’s action against Wilmar and other firms has highlighted the work being undertaken by Nestle and The Forest Trust in conjunction with Airbus.

The ‘Starling’ program that the three entities have put together relies on decades of historical satellite imaging and new monitoring data. Theoretically, in combination with better palm oil traceability data, the companies should be able to provide Nestle with something resembling real-time deforestation data that they can track to suppliers.

This is quite a remarkable development for a company like Nestle. Nestle has been particularly sensitive to reputational risks since the 1970s, when its marketing strategies for milk prompted a worldwide boycott movement and policy changes at the World Health Organization.

It’s now nearly a decade since Greenpeace launched a particularly graphic campaign against Nestle’s palm sourcing policies, which implied that eating a Nestle chocolate bar was equivalent to eating a dead orang-utan.

Nestle changed its sourcing policies, in line with Greenpeace demands. But Nestle also plays a long game. It’s now reasonably clear that they were seeking a long-term solution to their problem – no deforestation within their supply chain — that they could consider both technically robust and within their control.

Greenpeace, however, has only been critical of the Nestle announcement. This is a new, tech-based solution to a problem that Greenpeace highlighted.

Why the objections? Because it takes Greenpeace out of the loop.

The entire strategy for Greenpeace on palm oil relies on ‘gotcha’ moments. It comprises:

  • Undertaking a ‘secret’ investigation using exclusive data and analysis;
  • Publishing this data through its own platforms or other media channels;
  • Confronting upstream companies with the new data – usually through a media stunt of some kind;
  • Calling for a particular action.

When companies have better data, there is no ‘gotcha’ moment.  It also reduces Greenpeace’s ability to play loose with the truth. This is one of the reasons Greenpeace campaigners have a field day in developing countries, where data is poor, governance is weak and transparency is poor: it is a data vacuum.  Nestle looks to be changing that equation.

The EU Denies A Ban, Again

EU officials have been forced to deny – again – that the trading bloc is planning to ban imports of palm oil for the EU’s renewable fuel programs.

The denial was made by the EU’s head of ECOWAS and Nigerian Co-operation, Kurt Cornelis during a sensitisation workshop about the proposed ban of palm oil importation to the EU.

The workshop was organised by the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC).The NIPC has been informed by officials that the EU had intended to ban palm oil imports for its renewable programs.

This is an entirely reasonable assumption given the European Parliament’s moves to phase out palm oil in the past, and the public statements from many MEPs that this effort will continue.

Palm oil producers in Nigeria and across sub-Saharan Africa are well aware of this. Companies like SOCFIN and SIFCA have a good understanding of European policy – a good chunk of the investment in Africa is from Europe, and most exports go to EU markets.  Unlike their Southeast Asian counterparts, they don’t have the luxury of large established export markets in India and China.

For this reason, they also have an understanding of how EU policy can creep. After all, it was farmers from the Cote d’Ivoire that launched action against anti-palm oil labels in France.

What this indicates – as with the EU Ambassador to Indonesia’s comments last week – is that the EU very much needs to clarify its position, and as soon as possible.

Developing countries assumed they were facing a palm oil ban; they are then told this isn’t the case; but it’s quite evident from the final text of the RED that a palm-based biofuel freeze and phase-out might start occurring as soon as February.

In which case, EU officials saying, ‘there’s no ban on palm oil’ will sound even more ridiculous.

Malaysia has asked the EU repeatedly at the WTO for drafts of any legislation. Thus far they haven’t responded.

To Europeans this might be bureaucracy at work, but to anyone outside of Brussels, the contradictions and silence come across as arrogance at best, and outright duplicity at worst.

Kok Calls Out EU’s Shifting Goalposts 

New Malaysian Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok has called out the anti-palm lobby in the European Union – and not just campaigners.

Minister Kok called out the clear hypocrisy between the EU’s stated political position on sustainable development and its regulatory trade barriers for developing country exports.

At a recent sustainability conference in Spain, she said “the EU should assist developing countries achieve the SDGs instead of imposing onerous rules and policies that undermine their efforts.”

Kok also implied that the mixed messages could lead to perverse outcomes: “EU’s anti-palm oil action is telling palm oil producing countries that investing in sustainability does not pay off and is futile. Malaysia has taken various efforts to invest in sustainability and comply with sustainable practices.”

This has to some extent been the case with sustainability certification. The case was made when certification schemes started that there would be a clear premium for certified product. This hasn’t materialised in the way it was imagined. Rather, the costs have been borne by producers; purchasers and consumers are generally not willing to pay.

But by continuing to single out palm oil – after palm exports complied with the EU’s sustainability criteria using RSPO-RED and ISCC – the EU is signalling that it will change the compliance rules as it sees fit.

In both cases, the rewards for complying with tighter requirements – and not necessarily better requirements – are not there. Minister Kok is asking a question that we know that many palm exporters ask constantly: can Europe really be trusted?

If You Thought Palm Was Tough…

CIFOR, one of the world’s leading forestry institutions, has put together a new report outlining the problems identifying soy-based deforestation.

The big problem, according to the report authors, is that 80 per cent of the world’s soybean crop is fed to animals, which is then sold to customers. It is for this reason that the ‘deforestation footprint’ in exported meat products is so high.

More than half of Brazil’s soybean meal exports go to Europe – this is basically used for animal feed.

But it’s the beef-soybean nexus that makes things even more complicated in a country like Brazil, particularly when it comes to soybean certification. Forest is often cleared for animal pasture; but then the land-use shifts to soybean. In this scenario, the soybean can be considered ‘deforestation free’ – because it wasn’t the soybean farmers that cleared the land.

The other problem for soybean is that certification covers no more than 4 per cent of global production: it is entirely niche. This means that, like FairTrade, its market penetration is limited and will be further hindered by the large proportion of soybean that goes to animal feed markets.  Adding to this is that soybean rarely has a ‘consumer’ face.

Beef already has some limited pressures on it in niche markets from those who demand grass-fed beef, hormone-free or no meat at all. Consider the complicated nature of asking consumers to demand that their meat is only fed deforestation-free soy.

It’s no wonder that activists picked on palm oil instead.

But it’s also absurd. Soy has deforestation footprint that is double palm oil’s. Beef’s deforestation footprint is ten times as big.

The situation is about to get more complicated, too. The ongoing trade dispute between China and the US has prompted China to put a 25 per cent tariff on US soybeans. Prices for exported soybeans are high – so there may be a new incentive for Brazilian farmers to clear and plant more land.


HCS 101 PART 3: Can HCS Be Changed?

The first two blogs in this series looked at how the ‘high carbon stock’ idea has been introduced into both European regulation (under the Renewable Energy Directive) and into private sector (the High Carbon Stock Approach and the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto).

This piece will look at how and whether the various approaches to HCS can be incorporated within the EU’s revised Renewable Energy Directive framework.

First, we’ll look at the rationale for the inclusion of the HCS definition itself. Second, we’ll look at different scenarios for changing that definition.

Why HCS?

To recap, the European Commission, Parliament and Council have agreed on an approach to the sourcing of biofuels and whether they can be counted towards the EU’s renewable energy targets. They have stated that in February 2019, the Commission will define criteria for acceptable biofuels. This will be based on whether biofuels can be considered ‘high risk’ or ‘low risk’ for indirect land use change in ‘high carbon stock’ areas.

As we’ve pointed out, the existing HCS definition is broadly in line with international definitions of forested areas, leaning towards the upper limit of carbon stock thresholds.

The big question is if, whether or how the Commission will alter its definition of HCS areas.

The rationale behind the use of HCS as an original ‘threshold’ appears to be because it is very difficult to accurately measure emissions from land-use change , and it’s also difficult to generalise. Consider that the variation in aboveground carbon stock is dependent upon forest type (e.g. tropical dry or wet), latitude, rainfall and temperature change, among other things.

Belowground carbon and soil disturbance for clearing makes things even more complicated. Soils – as a source of greenhouse gas emissions – are poorly understood. Different soil types emit different gases at different rates under different conditions – and it’s not intuitive. For example, CO2 emissions from soil used for growing wheat in temperate climates are significantly higher than emissions from soil for sugarcane in tropical climates.

Combined, the IPCC tallies that for forests, averages for above and below ground carbon are about 400 t C ha- in boreal forests, 150 t C ha-1 in temperate forests, and 250 t C ha-1 in tropical forests.

Therefore, the European Commission narrowing the definition of ‘high carbon stock’ to ‘continually forested areas and wetlands’ suited the EU’s political purpose. It should also be remembered that tropical forest areas were simply not on the EU’s radar when the regulations were written. This was very much about: i) supporting domestic agriculture; and ii) greening the image of diesel as a transport fuel.

But the question is whether the use of a ‘high carbon stock’ threshold is actually meaningful for greenhouse gases and biodiversity.

One of the key points that has been made by European analysts throughout the first iterations of the RED was that land use change emissions because of palm oil – caused by indirect land use change in forests and peatland  – were high, and therefore palm oil should be excluded from the RED. But some studies showed that even with this incorporation of HCS thresholds into ILUC calculations, the emissions from palm were lower or equivalent to rapeseed and other crops.

Why is this the case? Because in modelled scenarios when palm gets excluded from the RED based on either greenhouse gas ‘savings’ or because of peatland expansion, the demand for EU-based vegetable oils increases in the EU for other uses. This shortfall has to be replaced somehow, and palm oil’s versatility makes it the first choice.

The other point is on biodiversity. One European researcher states the following:

The impacts on biodiversity in terms of species diversity from occupation and transformation of land in Europe may be as significant as from occupation and transformation of land in rainforest regions e.g. Malaysia and Indonesia. Two factors contribute to this surprising characteristic: 1) The yields in the tropics are often higher than in the temperate regions leading to a smaller affected area in the tropics, and 2) since a smaller share of the original nature in Europe is left than in Malaysia and Indonesia, the ecosystems in Europe are also more sensitive to further occupation and transformation.

What this demonstrates is that the HCS threshold – as a means to achieving a particular environmental outcome – is somewhat arbitrary. This is because it applied to a market designed by the EU that was really only supposed to operate internally.

This question of the EU’s HCS thresholds leads into bigger questions about whether an alternative threshold or definition could deliver a better outcome.

Can HCS be changed?

Let’s consider some scenarios.

First, let’s consider the existing regime, using the most extreme definition : Greenpeace’s HCS definition.

It wouldn’t be politically palatable to bring the cutoff date forward to 2019. Pushing it further back, i.e. retrospective regulation, would also not be possible. However, changing the rules to tighten the definition of expansion into any forest type – including young regenerating forest – would satisfy European Greens, particularly if combined with the existing 2008 cutoff date.

Under this scenario, fuels from any expansion areas that went into any forest would need to be re-certified under RED certification. This would limit the number of suppliers going into Europe, but it would not stop them. Many Malaysian suppliers would still qualify, as would incumbents in Indonesia. The bigger question would be whether data is available for certification.

In our view, this would significantly change the market.

Second, let’s consider the new regime, where biofuel feedstocks are assessed for whether they are at risk of causing indirect land use change in HCS areas.

For the sake of clarity, let’s assume the EU finds a way to ‘prove’ that ILUC is significant for palm oil – and palm oil alone — and that it is possible to determine whether the expansion has been on all forest types, tightening the HCS definition.

As previous EU reports have demonstrated (and outlined above), the demand for rapeseed and other oils in the EU market would go up, increasing price and lowering supply. Demand for palm would rise as a consequence for non-fuel uses, and no indirect land-use change would be prevented. It may actually increase.

Another problem might be that rapeseed, too, has impinged upon young regenerating forest that wasn’t classified as forest.

The only way for the EU to prevent any land-use change would be to apply the same conditions to rapeseed. This is, of course, politically unacceptable.

However, the combination of land-use change risk vagaries and a tighter definition for HCS will likely give the EU the answer it wants.

In the WTO, this probably won’t be acceptable under different WTO agreements.

If the EU is seeking to prevent greenhouse gas emissions and/or deforestation via a technical regulation, the method it chooses should “not be more trade restrictive than necessary to fulfil a legitimate objective.”

Similarly, the WTO allows for countries to introduce trade measures related to the conservation of natural resources. But a policy must be ‘primarily aimed at’ the conservation of exhaustible natural resources and any implementation must be ‘reasonably related’ to that objective. The Directive is about renewable energy and greenhouse gases. It’s a world away from indirect land use change in developing countries.

In other words, if the EU wants to stop deforestation, there are easier ways to do it than by tightening the HCS definition.


Palm Oil Monitor Weekly Update – 8th October 2018

Has the EU Predetermined ‘High Risk’ Biofuels?

The EU’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Vincent Guérend, has raised eyebrows in the region by stating that the EU will phase out palm-oil based biofuels by 2030, according to comments reported in the Jakarta Post.

The problem with his comments is simple: the compromise text for the revised Renewable Energy Directive stated no such thing.

Just to remind, the agreed text of the European Commission, Parliament and Council stated two things.

First, that the European Commission would complete a report on ILUC (Indirect Land Use Change) and cropland expansion by February 2019, and that it would also construct a set of criteria for determining which biofuels can be certified as ‘low ILUC risk’ biofuels.

Second, it said that it would freeze ‘high risk’ biofuels at 2019 levels, and that by 2023, it would review these criteria with a view to phasing out ‘high risk’ fuels by 2030.

The compromise text should indicate that these decisions are yet to be made. The criteria, scientific report, are supposed to be based on the best available scientific information.

The reasonable question is whether the result has been predetermined; Ambassador Guérend’s words would indicate that this is the case.

Consider Guérend’s statement: “Provided the country succeeds in ensuring sustainable palm oil supply chains, we would be willing to reconsider the commodity’s eligibility in the EU market after 2030.”

It should be noted that Guérend hasn’t specified that high-risk or uncertified palm will be phased out; he has simply said that palm will be phased out.

This would mean that even under a RSPO-RED type certification – HCS prohibitions in place or not – palm would be banned from the RED.

This is undoubtedly the option that many EU policymakers are seeking, particularly in the Parliament and among member states. We would have hoped that the Commission would be the voice of reason, but Guérend appears to be indicating otherwise.

Unsurprisingly, Malaysia, Indonesia and other palm exporters – including Colombia and Thailand – have already raised the RED at WTO Technical Barriers to Trade meetings, and called for information on draft regulations; the EU has rebuffed these requests.

What will happen after February if the EU presses ahead? Palm oil exporters will undoubtedly seek to have the matter resolved via the WTO. This may put a dampener on progress in the EU-Indonesia trade negotiations. A dispute between Australia and Indonesia on antidumping actions on paper slowed progress in their bilateral negotiations, which are yet to be finalised.


Both Malaysia and Indonesia are hitting the road to lobby against the EU’s future biofuels rules. Last week, the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC) issued a joint statement that was highly critical of the use indirect land use change in policy instruments. The clearest statement was as follows:

Governments in the developing world should be fearful of being drawn in to acknowledging, accepting or offering legitimacy to the ILUC scheme within the RED II.

The statement calls out the use of ILUC as a potential violation of WTO rules.

Malaysia’s Minister of Primary Industries Teresa Kok also visited both Switzerland and the European Union in order to see eye to eye on palm oil. The visit to Switzerland followed the Swiss senate narrowly blocking a motion to have palm oil left off the table in bilateral trade agreement negotiations between Switzerland and both Malaysia and Indonesia.

The two governments agreed to form a joint committee to cooperate on trade, sustainability and technology.  As with most countries, for the Swiss, it’s the farm sector making the biggest noises on palm oil. The problems for Switzerland’s farmers haven’t been competition for imports into Switzerland, but the general non-competitiveness of European rapeseed oil in EU markets.

Minister Kok’s visit also took in the European Palm Oil Conference in Madrid.

Indonesian Trade Minister Lukita had virtually the same itinerary, visiting both Zurich and Madrid. The visit to the former was for the finalisation of the Indonesia-EFTA (European Free Trade Area – comprising Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein) free trade agreement.  Sources have indicated that this agreement is very close to completion.

The visit to Spain was also for the European Palm Oil Conference, where Minister Lukita spoke at the same session as Minister Kok.  Indonesia has attempted to strengthen its existing regulatory regimes and certification schemes, though the robustness of both remains questionable.

Deforestation Data Gets Sharper

A new study by some of the world’s leading experts on deforestation has received little attention. Why? The story it tells isn’t quite what environmentalists want to hear.

Authors from the University of Arkansas’ Sustainability Consortium, along with Matt Hansen of the University of Maryland (home of Global Forest Watch) and esteemed scholars such as Nancy Harris, have remodelled Global Forest Watch (GFW) data.

Part of the problem with the GFW was that it could examine tree cover loss at a reasonably fine level – down to 30m2 – but couldn’t actually determine whether that tree cover loss was because of clearing for agriculture, pulp plantations, small-scale shifting agriculture, or part of regular forest harvesting operations, or even urbanization and oil palm replanting.

To remedy this, Hansen and co re-examined 15 years of data (2001 to 2015) and undertook ground-truthing to determine what is actually driving deforestation.

In short, this seems to have significantly improved the accuracy of the regional-level data.

So, original map-based estimates for forest loss in Southeast Asia indicate that large-scale farms and plantations in the region account for 78 per cent of forest cover loss and can be considered land-use change in a stricter sense, with shifting agriculture accounting for 9 per cent of forest loss.  However, the revised results put the figures at 61 per cent for large-scale farms and plantations and 20 per cent for shifting agriculture.

There are also some other points worth noting. Tree cover loss in Southeast Asia is on par with that in Africa, but most African tree cover loss comes from shifting agriculture. The figures put large-scale farming deforestation in South America at more than double that of Southeast Asia. The distinction between shifting agriculture and large-scale agriculture isn’t arbitrary; the two are qualitatively different and this is noted by the authors, but there is crossover between the two, particularly when smallholders contribute to global commodity supply chains.

The study doesn’t disaggregate the data by country yet, and nor does it disaggregate by commodity, but imagine that to be the next step. Given that the bulk of deforestation in South American is driven by livestock and soy, and that according to an EU study just 11 per cent of deforestation in Indonesia comes from palm, we expect palm to be relatively low on the list of commodities.


Palm Oil Monitor – Weekly Update 1st October 2018

Indonesia Tries Another Moratorium

The Indonesian government has said that it has put in place a presidential instruction that halts new palm oil developments for three years.

Various environmental groups have welcomed the announcement, but it should be viewed with a degree of scepticism.

First, it’s a presidential instruction or ‘inpres’. This means it is a declaration from the office of the President, rather than a piece of legislation created by the President (‘Perpres’). This is of utmost significance. ‘Inpres’ declarations are best described as lower-level laws in Indonesia’s legal hierarchy.

Often these lower-level laws lack implementing regulation from the relevant ministry, and/or the relevant sub-national government. These means that although it is a legal instrument, the lack of regulation means it can’t be implemented.

Second, even with implementing regulation, that doesn’t mean the laws themselves are enforceable, meaning compliance might be low.

Any number of decrees may be issued from Jakarta that will require implementing regulation from provincial authorities. But as has sometimes been the case, the provinces can have an adversarial relationship with Jakarta.

Added to this is that resources for compliance and enforcement aren’t always there. Indonesia is a big country, but has limited resources. Provincial heads may simply not have the fiscal means to support large-scale reviews of oil palm plantation permits.

Third, we’ve been here before. In 2009, in the lead-up to the Copenhagen climate conference, President Yudhoyono issued what was effectively a moratorium on forest clearing. This was partnered with a USD 1 billion grant from the government of Norway as an incentive payment. But the fact of the matter was that the moratorium simply did not slow forest loss. In the six years after the announcement forest loss increased.

So why has the announcement been made now?

The EU’s planned restrictions on palm oil biofuels for the Renewable Energy Directive are without doubt causing producer nations a high degree of concern. Much of the language that the EU is using concerns risk of land use change (direct or indirect) in high carbon stock forests. A moratorium – if enforceable – would lower that perceived risk.

 Wilmar vs Greenpeace Heats Up

Wilmar and Greenpeace appear to have stepped up their war of words – and actions. Wilmar, for its part, has gone on a media blitz, pointing out that many of Greenpeace’s accusations are incorrect or outdated. However, factual accuracy has never been Greenpeace’s strong suit, and facts, no matter how compelling, are not going to force Greenpeace to back down.

Greenpeace has stepped up its public action, ‘occupying’ a Wilmar refinery in Sulawesi.  This is straight out of the Greenpeace playbook – from several years ago.

The question is this: who is Greenpeace attempting to convince with this additional action?

As we noted last week, Greenpeace is seeking greater support for its High Carbon Stock Approach methodology.

Wilmar was already implementing ‘no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation’ within its own plantations; it was already asking suppliers to comply with the same policies, and there are limits to how quickly companies can change supply chain practices. Their key demand was having access to having all supply chain information.

The point of leverage Greenpeace has is with purchasers in Western companies and in Western markets. Do purchasers think this new action is acceptable? One comment in the Straits Times last week stood out:

There is growing frustration among activists that big plantation companies, including pulp and paper suppliers, are, in effect, having their cake and eating it too by announcing big sustainability goals in order to hold on to brands such as Nestle and Unilever, only to hide misdeeds among their opaque supplier networks.

It may be the case that purchasers are for the most part satisfied with most efforts so far and understand that minor tweaks to RSPO no deforestation policies will only provide incremental environmental and economic gains. Having purchasers care more about the technical difference between a broad ‘no deforestation’ approach and the complexities of HCSA may be a tough sell. Consider also that companies like Nestle have announced that they will use satellites to monitor suppliers for deforestation. In these cases, who needs Greenpeace?

Swiss Farmers Swing and Miss

The Swiss Senate rejected a proposal to leave palm oil off the negotiating table in its future agreements with Indonesia and Malaysia as part of EFTA bloc (European Free Trade Agreement), comprising Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Senators rightly pointed out that forcing palm oil off the table would lead to a collapse in negotiations. That said, the palm oil trade between Malaysia and Switzerland is small, hitting around 35,000 tonnes annually. The bulk of this goes to the food industry.

The biggest opponents to palm oil in Switzerland are, unsurprisingly, rapeseed producers. There are around 8,000 producers growing on 15,000 ha.

This is not a significant number of farmers compared with the millions of oil palm growers across Southeast Asia. However, as the Belgian dispute over farming in the Canada Europe FTA showed, a small number of farmers can have a big impact in inward-looking European markets.

The Senate did, however, instruct negotiators to seek provisions on sustainable production of palm oil and the development of international standards for sustainable production. This second point is promising. The introduction of an ISO-endorsed standard for palm oil could be very welcome, particularly when international disputes over sustainability emerge. The starting point would likely be the MSPO.