Borrell Criticized by Indonesian Minister | Norwegian Confusion | Zuckerman’s Iceland Moment

Retno to Borrell: Treat palm oil fairly

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has called on the European Union to stop discriminating against palm oil in a meeting with Josep Borrell, the EU’s most senior foreign affairs official.

According to news reports across Indonesia, Foreign Minister Marsudi said, “Indonesia’s request is simple, so that Indonesian palm oil is treated fairly …I have also conveyed the seriousness of the Government of Indonesia in producing palm oil in a sustainable manner and continuing to strengthen ISPO.”

This is the second time the Minister has pressed the EU on the palm oil discrimination issue.

Reports also noted that Borrell said, “I know how important palm oil is for Indonesians in tackling poverty. We have to find solutions that address sustainability and economic issues … Of course the issue of palm oil has disrupted our relationship, but we have to resolve this issue.”

However, Borrell also stated, “In fact, there is no ban on the export of Indonesian palm oil to Europe. In fact last year there was a 26 percent increase in Indonesian palm oil exports to Europe.”

The EU is still attempting to maintain that there is no ban on the use of palm oil within the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive – this simply is not credible and it undermines trust when the EU indulges in such obvious sophistry. It is verging on an insult for Brussels to imagine that anyone in Jakarta is unsophisticated enough to actually fall for this.

To recap: palm oil biofuels are now denied support under the RED II. All other feedstocks will continue to receive such support, making palm biofuels unviable in the EU marketplace. Palm oil imports have been frozen, and will be ‘phased out’ (classic EU-speak that actually means ‘totally banned’) in 2030. An outright ban was announced by Belgium announced two weeks ago, two WTO cases are underway to protest against the ban, and Members of the European Parliament have publicly celebrated the ‘banning of palm oil biofuels’.

Someone in the Berlaymont really needs to come up with a better ‘line to take’.

EXCLUSIVE: Norway’s forest program evaluation: “Revise the strategy”

Norway’s aid agency, Norad, has published a scathing review of its own forest and climate programs in Indonesia, stating that the programs have ‘little focus on poverty reduction’. This review comes as the Norwegian government has been heavily criticized for running a secretly funded campaign attacking the Indonesian palm oil industry.

The report is an evaluation of what Norad refers to as ‘private sector initiatives’ (PSIs), which are in reality its funding for NGOs in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia.

The report, issued earlier this year, was effectively buried with little publicity. There are three key points worth noting. First, the NGO programs paid little attention to poverty. It states:  

‘A clear and overarching goal for the [Norad] private sector initiatives is to support poverty reduction, but the evaluation finds that the majority of the measures do not have a conscious relationship to how the measures affect vulnerable groups and the level of poverty locally, nationally or globally.’

‘among the PSIs that directly engage with vulnerable groups or can impact wealth levels, the majority do not make a specific mention of poverty reduction as an objective or even a concern. This is problematic because available data suggest that some PSIs can reduce poverty but some may also exacerbate it. Therefore, it is crucial that NICFI funding to PSIs be scrutinised not only for their ability to achieve their own objectives, but also for their ability to contribute to decreased poverty.’

Second, the report also takes issue with the overall management and approach of the program, stating that the evaluation:

“was unable to find documentation that indicates that the climate and forest initiative has any detailed strategic approach to their portfolio management of the private sector initiatives… As there is a lack of documentation, reliable performance data is also lacking in order to be able to assess whether initiated measures are likely to contribute to goal achievement.”

Third, the report states that NGOs have generally been ineffective in lobbying for legislative change: “There are opportunities to support implementation of legislation and to develop further legislation, but efforts to drive legislation by the private sector have not been effective.”

This is notable. The report released by Forest Trends last week – and financially supported by Norad –underlines questioning by a number of Indonesian palm stakeholders in relation to Norwegian support for campaigns against President Jokowi.

This is worth noting, particularly in relation to the success of President Jokowi’s moratoria, as well as ISPO implementation.

Revise the Strategy

The first and clearest recommendation is this: “Revise the strategy.”

Norad has had significant delays in rolling out is next phase of NICFI, which was supposed to commence at the beginning of 2021.

The question is whether Norad will listen to its own advice and change tack on Indonesia.

Is Zuckerman fighting deforestation or just lobbying against palm oil?

Food and lifestyle writer Jocelyn Zuckerman’s newly released book ‘Planet Palm’ has created some publicity around the globe. Palm Oil Monitor is yet to read the book closely, but a recent opinion piece on Yale 360 gives a sample of her thinking on Southeast Asia’s largest agricultural commodity. And this prompts a simple question: Is Zuckerman campaigning for forest conservation or just lobbying against palm oil?

Sure, the Yale360 piece and book are comprehensive missives against palm oil, but any claim to balance is completely thrown out the window. Where does a critique even start?

  • All efforts on sustainable production such as RSPO are completely dismissed.
  • The millions of smallholders across Indonesia, Malaysia and Nigeria are completely disregarded or somehow ‘linked to the major players’, despite their independent status.
  • The lower deforestation impact of palm oil – compared with other oilseeds such as soy, other commodities such as beef – is completely ignored.
  • The opinions of genuinely credible research organisations are completely ignored.
  • The role of industries such as US soybean and their history of lobbying against palm oil is overlooked.
  • The legally problematic nature of EU regulations against palm oil is dismissed, and the import and export of palm oil is portrayed as yet another ‘problem’ of globalisation.
  • And, of course: Anyone defending palm oil against one-sided and unsubstantiated claims is a shill for the industry. No doubt POM will now be included in that list.

Supporting Crop Apartheid?

But Zuckerman’s contribution to the debate is summed up when she writes that she “fully supports” a ban of palm oil. The number of research organisations, NGOs (including WWF and IUCN), international development experts and conservation biologists that have dismissed palm oil boycotts is lengthy.

This danger of this approach is well summarised by Inger Andersen, Director General of the United Nations Environment Program: “If we ban or boycott it, other, more land-hungry oils will likely take its place … Palm oil is here to stay and we urgently need concerted action to make palm oil production more sustainable, ensuring that governments, producers and the supply chain honour their sustainability commitments.”

Zuckerman’s book doesn’t meaningfully contribute to the debate around balancing environmental, economic and social concerns, or even how to address deforestation. It will, however, preach to the converted. It will also likely add to a ‘palm oil pile on’ around new proposed legislation in the US that seeks to ban commodities related to ‘illegal deforestation.’

It may be fortunate timing, but last month CIFOR – the world’s leading forest research institution – held a series of seminars for journalists on palm oil so they can broaden their perspectives on palm oil conservation. The link is here.

WTO Panel Formed in Malaysia biofuels case

The WTO has agreed to form a panel for Malaysia’s case against the European Union in relation to the Renewable Energy Directive (RED).  The case being brought by Malaysia against the EU measures is not significantly different from the Indonesian case. The possible contraventions of the GATT, Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) and Subsidies and Countervailing Measures agreements are all very similar. Malaysia does, however, call out the EU for not notifying the TBT committee for the measure – something that a number of other countries have also done in relation to the EU’s rules on pesticides. Thailand, Korea, Brazil, Russia, the UK, the US, Singapore, Guatemala, Australia, Colombia, Indonesia, Japan, Norway, China, Ukraine, India, El Salvador and Canada have reserved their rights to participate as third parties to the dispute.