Italy takes a stand against EU palm oil ban

The country joins several other European palm oil importers to speak out against the resolution

By ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN / Pic By ISMAIL CHE RUS

Italy becomes the latest member country in the European Union (EU) to oppose the bloc’s decision to phase out the use of palm oil in biofuels by 2021.

Following a meeting with Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry secretary general Datuk K Yogeesvaran in Rome on Feb 15, the Italian government said it was against any form of prejudice on the commodity in the EU’s renewable-energy (RE) directive.

The country joins several other European palm oil importers such as Spain, Sweden, France, the Netherlands and the UK to speak out against the resolution, which has been largely perceived as a protectionist trade barrier.

“Italy will continue to promote a fair and balanced solution, taking into account the concerns expressed by Malaysia, as well as the interests of all stakeholders and firmly rejecting any discriminatory approach specifically targeting a single source of biofuel — the palm oil,” the Italian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur said in a statement issued yesterday.

“This is a consistent position that Italy has been upholding for several years and it will not change in the forthcoming debate within European institutions,” it said.

The embassy also said that the Italian side recognises the sensitivity of palm oil issue, due to its significant economic and social impact.

Italy is the second-largest importer of palm oil in the EU, with a total of 362,259 tonnes exported to the Mediterranean country last year. It is estimated that 90% of biscuits and baked goods in Italian supermarkets contain palm oil.

Other EU countries who have taken a stance against the proposed ban are also major importers of the edible oil.

The Netherlands imported over a million tonnes of Malaysian palm oil in 2017 — representing nearly half of total imports by the EU for the year. Spain, Sweden and the UK imported 304,280, 116,833 and 21,347 tonnes respectively over the same period, while France brought in 629 tonnes.

The EU Parliament last month voted in favour to back a ban on the use of palm oil in motor fuels as part of ongoing efforts to combat climate change. The draft law aims for greater use of RE in the EU, with renewables expected to account for 35% of overall energy usage by 2030.

The move has since been met with criticisms from a number of palm oil-producing countries, especially in South- East Asia.

Malaysia, the world’s second-biggest producer of palm oil after Indonesia, has called the resolution a form of “crop apartheid” and has even thrown hints of retaliation should the EU carry on to pass the bill.

“Discussions in the EU are not yet over and the decision-making process is not concluded. The overall common objective is to foster sustainable use of biofuel.

“At the same time, it is also important that we all maximise efforts towards sustainable production and use. Italy and Malaysia will continue their dialogue on this matter and share best practices, building on their well-established tradition of co-operation,” the Italian Embassy said.

Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong, who had just returned from Europe last week, said he would lead a Malaysian delegation to Europe for the Malaysia-EU Palm Oil Consultation programme in April.