- Commission asks palm producers to stop ‘megaphone diplomacy’
- Lange goes into damage control on the Indonesia-EU Trade
- Indonesia and Malaysia improve standing on trafficking
Schomaker: “Not Every Smallholder has a Phone”
EU Environment Commissioner Astrid Schomaker is in South East Asia this week, and she has raised the ire of many in the palm oil community by urging palm oil exporters to avoid “Megaphone Diplomacy” when it comes to the EU Deforestation Regulation.
At a conference in Singapore last week, Schomaker stated:
“We are here to listen to what these countries’ challenges might be…not by conducting megaphone diplomacy, but by sitting at the table, understanding the realities of the commodities supply chain, working together to address problems, and creating sustainable alliances and partnerships that will benefit all, including vulnerable communities.”
The lack of self-awareness is eye-popping.
For years Brussels has conducted ‘Megaphone Regulation’ aimed squarely at all trading partners it simply cannot compete with. Did MEPs ‘sit at the table to understand the realities of the commodity supply chain’? No. They simply added palm oil to the deforestation ‘risk’ list, and then set about banning it in aviation fuels, transport biofuels, and other areas. There was no attempt at genuine understanding.
Did the EU institutions ‘work together’ with the ‘vulnerable communities’ in Malaysia and Indonesia? No. They plucked an arbitrary 4ha figure out of thin air – a number that has zero history or credence as a definition for smallholder – and slapped a ‘Megaphone Regulation’ on anyone above that number.
Now that the damage is done, and the victims are raising public concerns, the EU wants to talk?
Perhaps, Indonesia and Malaysia had to resort to their “Megaphone Diplomacy” because no matter how eloquently both countries tried to put their protests, Brussels simply refused to listen.
This was encapsulated in EU diplomatic chief Josep Borell’s comments earlier this year when he called out EU diplomatic corps for precisely that: Not Listening.
Schomaker appeared to recognise the absurdity of earlier throwaway comments by EU officials that suggested small farmers could comply with the regulations with a mobile phone, and acknowledged that “not every smallholder farmer has a phone, knows how it works or that every region has good data coverage.”
Now, there is a ‘Task Force’ that was the product of the joint mission by Indonesia and Malaysia, to Brussels earlier this month.
The EU needs to be careful that this does not become yet another confab that produces nothing. The ASEAN-EU Joint Working Group (JWG) on Vegetable Oil was convened just two years ago. Sure, the Task Force is supposed to deal with the EUDR, but the JWG was supposed to deal with these types of problems as they were happening. And guess what, it hasn’t.
Brussels Playing Defence
Schomaker’s visit coincides with a visit to Jakarta – and other capitals – by European Parliamentarians. Like their EU Commission counterpart, they appeared to be on the defensive.
Bernd Lange, who is chair of the Parliament’s international trade committee wrote a piece in the Jakarta Post pushing for a completion of the Indonesia-EU trade agreement. This comes less than two weeks after Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister Airlangga Hartarto said negotiations are in a ‘go slow’ phase, if not frozen altogether. Lange wrote:
“While some may harbor doubts about the advantages of deeper trade relations with the EU, particularly in light of our intensified focus on sustainability, I am keenly aware of the concerns voiced by countries like Indonesia. It is a valid observation that we have benefited from early industrialization and have accumulated wealth also through historical interactions with formerly colonized nations. Greater understanding and patience is needed from us Europeans for this historical fact, when thinking about current problems.
“It is little surprising that the EU’s commitment to realizing the green deal has been met with skepticism, as some perceive these measures as neglecting the realities faced by nations like Indonesia, where the agricultural sector employs millions of farmers. This is why I find it of great importance to highlight smallholders are of vital importance to me. I believe that we can work together on mechanisms ensuring that we reach common goals regarding deforestation.”
In the case of both Schomaker and Lange, Europeans will also need to change their go-to solution of aid and capacity building projects that go straight to EU companies and NGOs. Indonesia has been on the receiving end of this type of ‘aid’ before – and is aware it can undermine its own development goals.
Trafficking in Persons: Moving Up
The U.S. Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report is notable this year for one major reason: Both Indonesia and Malaysia moved up from their respective tiers this year. Indonesia moved from Tier 2 Watchlist to Tier 2 (where you can also find New Zealand and Italy); Malaysia moved from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watchlist.
In both cases, these are significant developments.
There has been a consistent effort to portray the palm oil industries in both countries as key drivers of trafficking – and there’s often a lack of curiosity to verify those claims (more like desk research in Foggy Bottom). Although there are clearly some truly awful criminal elements in Indonesia participating in human trafficking that also operate palm plantations, the industry largely remains free of trafficking – the worst infractions are against Indonesian workers traveling to other territories.
Similarly, Malaysia’s clear efforts on reforms have made significant headway with other U.S. Department of Homeland Security that appears finally to be recognised (to some extent) by the State Department.
The U.S. approach on labour can, unfortunately, be fragmented. The State Department and Department of Labor have a perspective that is/can be political; but it’s the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that actually has the enforcement power to stop trade in its tracks. It may actually be possible for the European Union to get right in its proposals on prohibiting forced labour goods from entering the EU – if they avoid the politicisation and concentrate on cooperation. Copying the U.S. system en masse would be a bad idea; the EU would be better off committing first to due process and transparency, and then ensuring that tough sanctions can be enforced after a fair and collaborative investigative process. However, as is also the case with the U.S., European countries have some work to do cleaning up their own backyard.