Monday, September 26, 2011

In Defence of Palm Oil

UNDOUBTEDLY, a recommendation by the Standing Committee on Economics to the Australian House of Representatives last Monday could represent an important step towards defeating the bill to require palm oil labelling. And so is the Australian government's stated opposition to its passage. But as clearly evident by the fate of a similar endorsement by the Community Affairs Legislative Committee to the Australian Senate in Canberra in June to reject the Amended Truth in Labelling -- Palm Oil Bill, there is still every chance that the legislation will meet with the approval of the Australian lower house as it did with the upper house. In any event, whatever the view of the federal government, Australia has a hung parliament, and much will depend on which way the coalition opposition votes on a bill which has been driven by the Greens and Independents, who hold the balance of power.

Obviously, the voting will be dictated by the domestic Australian political agenda. This is not to say that Malaysia will be entirely helpless in influencing the outcome. True, all the arguments and evidence that were presented in support of the Malaysian case were not able to convince the Australian senate. Nevertheless, it is still significant that these appeared to have made a pronounced impression on the deliberations of the parliamentary standing committees. In fact, the silver lining in this dark cloud in our trade relations with Australia is the greater effort that has been expended to explain the vital contributions of palm oil to economic growth and jobs, its health benefits and the initiatives to protect the environment and preserve the habitat of the orang utan. As the Australian legislators prepare to cast their votes, these stellar efforts should undoubtedly continue. Certainly, they should be made aware that we would be ready to take the case to the World Trade Organisation as any legislation which discriminates against palm oil constitutes a breach of Australia's international obligations. But more importantly, they should be made to understand that the solution to environmental concerns does not lie in mandatory labelling but in cultivating oil palm without damaging the planet.

Perhaps nothing can convince the green activists that palm oil can be productive and profitable as well as environmentally-friendly. No doubt, whatever happens to the labelling bill, they will continue to fund campaigns like Melbourne Zoo's "Don't Palm Us Off". For this reason, Malaysia has to be constantly prepared to rebuff attacks depicting the cultivation of oil palm as destructive to forests and animals and repulse the trend of boycotting, banning or proscribing products containing palm oil.

Read more: In defence of palm oil
New Straits Times Kuala Lumpur

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