- EU’s foreign service chief says the bloc “has a lot of explaining to do” on its policies
- A new presentation from the EU on the Deforestation Regulation shows it has some listening to do also
- The presentation has some serious omissions and half-truths that need to be addressed
EU officials may have changed tack on consultations with developing countries when it comes to the Deforestation Regulation and other trade barriers being imposed by the bloc.
Last week the EU’s foreign service chief, Josep Borrell, said once again that the “EU has a lot of explaining to do” when it comes to its policies and actions overseas.
This has been sparked in many parts of the world. India and Africa have both kicked up a diplomatic fuss about the EU’s carbon policies, with the former raising the issue at the WTO, as well as claims that they will knock USD16 billion off Africa’s GDP.
In Southeast Asia, the debate has almost entirely been around palm oil, with Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister imploring parliament members to speak up against the Deforestation Regulation and “support Malaysia’s national interests”.
The emerging animosity towards Brussels – which has been brewing for months – has prompted EU officials to set off on something of a ‘listening tour’ in Jakarta, and consulting with palm oil stakeholders.
But is the EU actually listening? Documents from the meetings lean towards a lot of explaining, but not much listening.
Take the meeting presentation here and its key points.
- “No ban against any country or commodity.” This simply isn’t true. Countries and commodities that can’t prove they haven’t come from land that was deforested before the 31 December 2020 are banned, regardless of whether they were or not.
- “Based on internationally backed definitions (FAO).” There is no clear, internationally accepted definition of forest degradation. The EU is applying this unilaterally. The EU itself notes, “a widely applied definition of forest degradation is unavailable, and data are scarce.”
- “FLEGT-licensed timber from Indonesia is recognized as compliant with the new Regulation’s legality requirement.” This is true, but there’s a clear omission: FLEGT-licensed timber isn’t compliant without additional proof. The Deforestation Regulation effectively undoes a decade or more of work from Indonesia on timber legality.
- “‘Cut-off date of 31 December 2020: Aligned with UNSDG 15.2.” Again, this is a half-truth. UNSDG 15.2 has a target of halting deforestation by 2020, but the indicator of 15.2 is ‘progress towards sustainable forest management.’ And it’s the indicators against which SDGs are actually measured. Does the deforestation regulation make any programmatic contribution towards increasing sustainable forest management? No.
- “The EU will step up cooperation to ensure that partners are able to reap the benefits of new EU rules on deforestation.” So far, the EU’s efforts on stepping up cooperation have been the opposite: the EU has signalled it has effectively torn down the FLEGT agreement with Indonesia.
- “Creates new businesses opportunities, which will ensure the long-term sustainability of smallholders’ livelihoods and boost opportunities for all actors in the deforestation-free supply chains.” The business opportunities that seem to be largest are those of consultants – probably supported with EU funding – supposedly ‘assisting’ exporters into EU markets. This will do very little for smallholders operating across Indonesia.
Out of all the problems in the presentation, it’s the point about the SDGs and new business opportunities that rankle the most. It’s an insult to Indonesia that to simply state that it ‘aligns’ with a single SDG therefore makes it ok, or that it will provide new business opportunities when it’s apparent there will be significant costs.
The Indonesian palm oil community has made many of its demands clear already. They are that Indonesia shouldn’t be classified as high risk, that ISPO should be recognised as a form of compliance under the Regulation, and that the EU assure that smallholders don’t get harmed.
None of those appear anywhere in the EU’s communications to date – and that’s where the EU has some explaining to do.