Malaysian minister proposes halting oil palm plantation expansion

Malaysia plans to halt all expansion of oil palm plantations this year in a bid to tackle concerns about deforestation, Malaysian Minister of Primary Industries Teresa Kok said in an interview with the Taipei Times on 1 March.

A proposal to be presented to the Cabinet for discussion later this month would cap the country’s oil palm plantation area at around 6M ha, up from 5.85M ha at the end of last year to give some leeway to growers in the middle of replanting or who had already bought land, she said.

The cap would require commitment and cooperation from state governments as certain land issues were under their jurisdiction, Kok said.

The proposal comes as the European Union moves to ban palm oil in biofuels from 2021. On 17 January, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) endorsed new goals for renewable energy and fuels contained in the post-2020 EU Renewable Energy Directive (REDII). The goals include capping first-generation biofuels at 2017 levels, with a maximum of 7% in road and rail transport. MEPs also want a ban on the use of palm oil from 2021.

On 8 February, the European Commission published a draft delegated act addressing the issue of Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) under REDII. The draft legislation sets out specific criteria for determining high ILUC-risk feedstock, classifying palm oil from large plantations as unsustainable, but exempting palm oil cultivated on plantations of less than 5ha or produced on “unused” land.

ILUC occurs when pasture or agricultural land previously destined for food and feed is diverted to biofuel production.

Malaysia has called the draft law discriminatory.

The Taipei Times said the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries, whose members Indonesia, Malaysia and Colombia producing about 90% of global supply, was planning to jointly challenge the draft through bilateral consultations, as well as through the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).