Ever since the EU approved the deforestation regulation in parliament last year, disputes have arisen from various quarters especially developing markets that are key producers of the various commodities set to be affected by the regulation – rubber, palm oil, coffee, cocoa and so on.
Industry experts have also predicted a variety of negative repercussions as a result of this, from significant price hikes to food and beverage products in and out of the EU as well as a strong possibility that this will start a trade war between Europe and South East Asia.
Malaysia is a major producer of several of the affected commodities, and home to some 2.5 million farmers and smallholders that stand to lose the most once the deforestation regulation is finalised. This promped local industry associations to organise a formal protest in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur earlier this month as well as submit a heated petition to the EU.
“We demand that the European Union review [and withdraw] the clauses in the EU Deforestation Regulation that unjustly target non-European small farmers, as well as immediately consider exempting small farmers from these requirements,” agriculture and commodity industry leaders from six industry associations including the government-linked Federal Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (FELCRA) and Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) stated in the petition.
“The regulation also carries the potential to label Malaysia as a ‘High Risk’ country for deforestation - Such labelling would be highly demeaning to our country’s image and without justification.
“[This is despite the fact that] Malaysia’s excellent record on forest protection and sustainable production is clearly demonstrated, and the mandatory adoption of the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) Standards guarantees Malaysia’s steadfast commitment to comprehensive sustainability standards – [so we also demand that] the EU must recognise the MSPO standards as a compliance path for the deforestation regulation.”
The protest and petition received steadfast support from Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Plantation and Commodities Fadilah Yusof, who also urged the EU to make the situation right as soon as possible.
“Small farmers depend on the export of palm oil, rubber and other agricultural commodities to support their families – the Deforestation Regulation presents a significant stumbling block for them to access the European market, the ultimate outcome of which would be to increase poverty, reduce household incomes and harm rural communities,” the DPM said via a formal statement.
“These unrealistic demands [and] actions are unjust and stand in stark contrast to the EU’s commitments outlined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
“Europe’s determination to designate Malaysia as ‘High Risk under this regulation is unjustified as Malaysia is not high risk, our farmers are not high risk, and we cannot in good conscience be categorised as such [particularly when] our deforestation rate is effectively zero.
“To date, these concerns and demands have not been seriously addressed by EU leaders [although many] fates and livelihoods hang in the balance – we urge the EU to remedy the situation effectively and expeditiously.”
Attack on the people
The 500-strong crowd of protestors bore numerous signs such as ‘Stop discrimination against palm oil’, ‘We take good care of our forests’, and the more direct ‘Why palm oil but not rapeseed?’ – and similar to Fadilah’s comments, the protest leaders focused on highlighting that the EU was ignoring the welfare of these farmers as a key theme through the protest.
“The Regulation helps European multinationals, and harms Malaysian small farmers. This is unacceptable and protectionist behaviour,” Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (SALCRA) Head of Participants Development Henry Daris told the floor.
“We must work together and put an end to this attempted crop apartheid driven by the EU, who must ensure they will provide the same treatment to our small farmers as they do their own.”
National Rubber Industry Smallholders Development Authority (RISDA) Deputy Director General Ali Sabuddin bin Abu Samad added that the regulation was nothing short of ‘insulting’.
“The EU’s Regulation fails to acknowledge the progress our small farmers have made in reducing deforestation to almost zero,” he said.
“Malaysia is not ‘high risk’ for deforestation [and] it is insulting to even consider this idea - we deserve a guarantee Malaysia will not be considered ‘high risk’ under the Regulation.”