At present, there is no law banning food imports that bear "no palm oil" labels in Malaysia.
However, with anti-palm oil campaigns becoming more prominent, the Malaysian authorities are taking steps to protect the reputation of palm oil, a key agricultural product of the country.
Last year, the country exported about 16.5m tonnes of palm oil valued at RM$41bn (US$10bn).
"I have received photo evidence of ice-creams with banners and peanut butter with 'No Palm Oil' labelling sold at supermarkets in Perak, Selangor and Johor via WhatsApp from concerned industry stakeholders,” local media The New Straits Times quoted Malaysia’s Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok during a media conference.
"So, I would like to urge retailers, specifically supermarket operators to refrain from importing products that has labels that insult the palm oil industry,” Kok said.
In addition, the government plans to take action against "no palm oil" food products.
"I have spoken to Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail on this. It is for his Ministry to take action on such insulting food labelling that mislead consumers in Malaysia," Kok said.
Love MY palm oil
To educate the public on the benefits of using palm oil, the Ministry of Primary Industries also announced a year-long "Love MY (Malaysia) Palm Oil" campaign.
The campaign will be officially launched in the first quarter of this year.
Kok said the campaign’s objective was to instill national pride and greater appreciation for Malaysian palm oil, given its socio-economic importance and wide-ranging applications in health, nutrition, food, and non-food products.
“These (campaign activities) include targeting our young impressionable people from primary school to tertiary levels through the setting up of palm oil ambassador clubs in campuses, Edupalm forum, palm oil cooking competition and educational palm tree planting exercise,” Kok said when attending Reach and Remind, Friends of the Industry Seminar 2019 and Dialogue, an event organised by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council on Jan 8.
“In reality, our own people, including businesses, are not aware of the socio-economic importance and nutritional value of palm oil, besides it being more environment-friendly compared with other competing oils,” she explained.
Relations with EU turn sour?
The European countries’ insistence to ban palm oil would affect bilateral trade relations, Kok warned.
Malaysia PM Mahathir Mohamad will first send in the country’s official protests to the French president Emmanuel Macron and the Norwegian PM Erna Solberg concerning their countries’ plans to ban palm biodiesel, Bernama reported.
If the European countries are adamant on banning palm oil, the move would affect bilateral trade relations between Malaysia and the EU, Kok stressed.
She also plans to file complaints with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on anti-palm oil campaigns.
"I will be flying to Jakarta next month for the Council of Palm Oil Producing Council meeting to discuss with the Indonesian government on a joint action between our two nations to file complaints with the WTO on such anti-palm oil campaigns," the New Straits Times quoted her.
"If Indonesia is agreeable, the implementing body in Malaysia to file complaints of palm oil trade barriers with the WTO is the International Trade and Industry Ministry."
On the other hand, Kok has voiced support for sustainable palm oil.
She said that the ministry would ensure that all palm oil exports to the global market, would be accredited with the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) by 1 Jan 2020.
Last year, Malaysia exported about RM$41bn (US$10bn) worth of palm oil, which was lower than that of year 2017, figures from the Malaysian Palm Oil Board have shown. The volume exported was 16.5m tonnes.
In 2017, Malaysia exported 16.6m tonnes of palm oil valued at RM$50bn (US$12.2bn).
Part of the decline in exports came from the EU. The EU's import of Malaysia's palm oil dropped 4% to 1.91m tonnes between 2017 and last year .
Aside from the EU, highly populated countries in the APAC remained big palm oil importers, with India becoming the largest importer of Malaysia's palm oil last year. The country imported 2.5m tonnes of palm oil, 19.3% up from 2017.
China was the second largest importer, importing 1.86m tonnes, a slight drop of 3% from 2017.
Pakistan took the third place at 1.16m tonnes, a 12.4% increase from 2017.