UK government gives thumbs up to Malaysian deforestation standards for palm oil

INDUSTRY observers have welcomed a UK government verdict that has offered a report confirming that Malaysia is operating mandatory deforestation-free standards in its palm oil operations which are used for sectors including the confectionery market.

Significantly, Britain’s Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) also recommends to the UK Government that the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification scheme and the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (Licensing) Regulations 2005 should be accepted as proven compliance tools for the UK’s Due Diligence regulations which are established in the UK Environment Act.

“Wider industry concerns have been raised by environmental groups surrounding the use of palm oil which has led to widespread issues of deforestation in some global areas,” wrote Neill Barston in Confectionery Production, deemed the leading international monthly publication for the confectionery, chocolate, sweet bakery and snack industries since 1934.

“However, the sector has responded in recent years with a greater emphasis on sustainable harvesting methods.”

The TAC had earlier provided its latest assessment to the UK Government following the UK’s successful negotiations to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for a Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

This includes 11 countries that are members, making it the world’s largest free-trade deal – with the UK prepared to make concessions to CPTPP nations, including Malaysia. Malaysian palm oil exports to the UK will henceforth be zero-tariff as part of the agreement.

The TAC analysis examines this change specifically and is supportive of the proposed zero-tariff for future Malaysian palm oil exports to the British market.

Golden oil

The TAC report foresees benefits for Malaysian exporters and UK consumers as Malaysia becomes a larger supplier of palm oil to the UK market following the CPTPP trade agreement.

Furthermore, the UK TAC was reportedly asked to analyse the situation in part because of the opposition to the use of palm oil from environmental groups. Greenpeace and other traditionally anti-trade NGOs opposed the cuts in palm oil tariffs, claiming that without evidence, the rate of deforestation could increase.

However, as noted by industry-wide online hub My Palm Oil Policy, the UK’s Business & Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch is reported to have rejected such opposition, explaining to Sky News that “palm oil is a great product, it’s in so many of the things we use” and that such give-and-take is a normal part of trade negotiations.

The TAC’s trade and sustainability experts have examined the claims from NGOs (non-governmental organisations) as well and dismissed them.

Listening to expert analysis – rather than partisan campaigns – is an essential element to good governance. The TAC’s vast expertise includes University of Cambridge Professor of International Law Prof Lorand Bartels; Dr Andrew Swift who is one of the UK’s leading experts on food and medicine testing; and former advisor to both US and UK governments on international trade law Shanker Singham.

“Palm oil is in fact, one of the most-certified and most-regulated commodities anywhere in the world: this reality is outlined in another London-based assessment published in recent weeks,” asserted Barston in Confectionery Production.

“The House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) examined issues related to global deforestation and found Malaysian palm oil to be a leader in sustainable practices.”

Interestingly, the EAC Report authored by MPs from several different UK political parties further concluded that “there is an opportunity to learn from the experience of palm oil” because sustainability commitments “do not extend to other commodities”.

Significantly, the centrepiece of Malaysia’s commitment to palm oil sustainability is the MSPO standard which the TAC accept allows for compliance with UK environmental regulations such as the Environment Act.

“MSPO now deserves the formal recognition from government that it has already received in the marketplace – as the pre-eminent mandatory palm oil standard,” acknowledged Barston. “As the clear ‘legality standard’ for Malaysian palm oil it is a ready-made compliance tool and deserves to be formally recognised by the UK government.” – Feb 7, 2024

Main pic credit: RS Eco Palm

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