Macron to respond to PM’s letter on palm oil


French President Emmanuel Macron will respond to Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s letter on the proposed ban on palm oil in biofuels, according to French ambassador to Malaysia Frederic Laplanche.

In a statement yesterday, Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok (picture) said Laplanche has also pointed out that the French government is not against palm oil as evident in its recent approval of a bio-refinery owned by France’s Total SA with an anticipated utilisation of 350,000 metric tonnes of palm oil per annum.

“He also opined that more research on the benefits of palm oil should be publicised as there appears to be more negative findings on palm oil being circulated that are influencing public perception in Europe,” Kok said.

She said this after receiving a courtesy call from Laplanche at her office in Putrajaya on Monday to discuss the enhancement of bilateral cooperation and dialogues on palm oil, as well as engagements between lawmakers from both countries.

Last month, Dr Mahathir called on Macron to reject the French National Assembly’s proposed ban, saying that failure to observe the request will lead to the suspension of European Union-Malaysia free trade talks and the imposition of like-minded legislation against French exports.

France’s move could lead to “regrettable economic and trade consequences” for Malaysian exporters of palm oil and French exporters, Dr Mahathir said.

Kok added that top official from the French government is expected to visit Malaysia for a first-hand exposure on Malaysia’s sustainable palm oil practices and conservation efforts.

French environment ambassador Yann Wehrling’s visit, slated for April, will include trips to Malaysia’s oil palm plantations and wildlife conservation sites, according to a statement issued by the Primary Industries Ministry yesterday.

Wehrling’s itinerary will also include a meeting by the Malaysia-France Joint Committee on Palm Oil Cooperation to promote dialogue on palm oil.

Recently, French lawmakers voted to exclude palm oil as biodiesel feedstock and to end tax incentives for palm oil as of 2020, following concerns about the environmental impact of the crop.

Malaysia is the second-largest producer of the world’s palm oil, and has been vocal in rejecting any move to hinder the use of palm oil biofuels, calling it “discriminatory” and “reeks of double standards”.

Kok said France’s move has upset Malaysia as it is deemed as a de facto ban because the removal of the fiscal incentive would increase palm oil price and create a disincentive for its continued use as a raw material for renewable energy.

“The French National Assembly also decided to treat palm oil biofuel as regular fuel and not green fuel, despite the assurance of the French government earlier in January 2018 that it would not discriminate palm oil,” she said.

Kok said the Parliamentary Friendship Group, set up between French and Malaysian MPs in 2018, and the Malaysia-France Business Council will meet in March to discuss at length various palm oil-related matters.

The French embassy would also coordinate a programme involving the Institute of Higher Studies for Science and Technology in France to address the negative perception towards palm oil among French consumers.

The programme will be participated by academicians, the private sector and government officials from both sides, and its outcomes will be tabled in the French Parliament.