Stop labelling palm oil before we talk about free trade, says Dr Mahathir


Free trade can’t happen if certain parties continue to label Malaysia’s palm oil, said Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as the Malaysian leader uses the Asean Summit to criticise countries that are trying to outlaw the country’s main commodity.

Malaysia and fellow Asean neighbour Indonesia have been at the receiving end of a few European countries, which are proposing to ban biofuel, a by-product of palm oil.

Dr Mahathir said palm oil labelling in certain countries will not allow the full implementation of free trade.

“On the matter of free trade, I said (how) free trade but they start labelling Malaysian palm oil.

“That is not part of free trade,” the prime minister (PM) said on the sidelines of the 33rd Asean Summit and Related Summits here yesterday.

Dr Mahathir’s scathing remarks will resonate among attendees of the Asean Summit which includes influential figures from the European Union.

Malaysia and Indonesia, the world’s two largest producers of palm oil and account for more than 80% of global production, have been fighting a long battle against the commodity detractors. Malaysia currently accounts for 39% of world palm oil production and 44% of world exports.

Anti-palm oil lobbyists blamed the commodity for the rising deforestation and destruction of the natural habitat in the region. Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta had argued that millions of lives are dependent on the commodity, which has become a key money spinner for both nations.

The palm oil industry had also claimed that other seed oil producers are backing the lobbyists to protect their exports.

Dr Mahathir had said before that Europe should look at the destruction of their forests before pointing fingers at countries like Malaysia.

Malaysia and Indonesia also have a high-level group to counter the attack against palm oil.

The summit is the first for Dr Mahathir in 15 years, since assuming office in May 2018.

The global media is focusing on the world’s oldest elected leader at the star-studded regional event, which has Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe,  Indian PM Narendra Modi, Australian PM Scott Morrison, South Korean President Moon Jae, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera among the dignitaries.

Dr Mahathir yesterday received a courtesy call from International Monetary Fund (IMF) MD Christine Lagarde. Dr Mahathir said at the beginning of the meeting, Lagarde appreciated his intervention on the palm oil discrimination.

“She appreciated my intervention just now,” he said.

Dr Mahathir also said Lagarde was aware of the sour relationship between IMF and Malaysia during his first stint as the PM.

“She knows about the past on the relations with the IMF, and she clarified that it’s not like that now.”

Dr Mahathir defied IMF’s advice during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, but instead chose the Malaysian way including imposing capital control, lowering interest rates and rejecting international financial assistances.

Despite the global condemnation from international markets and the IMF, Malaysia recovered from the crisis faster than its South-East Asian neighbours.

Dr Mahathir said the IMF also expressed interest on the current federal government’s initiatives to rehabilitate the country including its anti-corruption strategies.

During her opening remarks, Lagarde expressed her happiness over Dr Mahathir’s historic election victory in the last general election.

Former Bank Negara Malaysia’s governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz’s return to corporate world was also appreciated by Lagarde.