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Malaysian, Indonesian Leaders Discuss Joint Stand Against EU's Palm Oil ‘Discrimination’

Muzliza Mustafa and Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
2019-08-09
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Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (left) and Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo inspect an honor guard in Putrajaya during the latter’s visit to Malaysia, Aug. 9, 2019.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (left) and Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo inspect an honor guard in Putrajaya during the latter’s visit to Malaysia, Aug. 9, 2019.
Courtesy of Malaysia Foreign Ministry

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad discussed on Friday the need to put up a united front against European “discrimination” of palm oil, of which the two countries are the world’s top producers, officials said.

Jokowi met with Mahathir in Malaysia’s administrative capital as the Indonesian leader was making his first foreign visit after winning reelection this year.

The Indonesian foreign ministry said via Twitter that the two leaders discussed a “united stand in the fight against palm oil discrimination,” among other issues, while the Malaysian foreign ministry said in a statement that they talked about “cooperation in [the] palm oil industry.” Both ministries did not elaborate.

In March, the 28-nation European Union (EU) said that palm oil should be phased out of renewable transportation fuels over concerns that palm plantations contribute to deforestation. The EU also said it planned to impose anti-subsidy duties of 8 percent to 18 percent on palm biodiesel from Indonesia.

In a news release that same month, the Indonesian government announced it would assess its relationships with European Union nations who had taken action against palm oil exports.

“If the discrimination against palm oil continues, we are afraid this will affect years of good relations between Indonesia and the EU, especially at this time when we are conducting intensive discussions on Indonesia-European Union Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement,” Coordinating Minister for the Economy Darmin Nasution said at the time.

In April, both the Indonesian and Malaysian governments sent a letter to the EU in which they criticized the European bloc’s decision to phase out palm oil as a green fuel.

Palm oil is used in soap and skin care products, biofuels and a variety of food products including margarine, chocolate and peanut butter. The neighboring Southeast Asian nations supply about 60 million tons of palm oil annually or 85 percent of the world’s output, according to government figures.

Before meeting with Mahathir on Friday, Jokowi told a Malaysian television channel that the two nations must work together to address “discrimination” by the European Union against palm oil products.

“I reiterate once again that Indonesia and Malaysia should work together to combat palm oil discrimination,” Jokowi said in the interview, according to Bernama, the Malaysian state news agency.

Plantation owners in Indonesia, meanwhile, have been accused of failing to pay billions of dollars in fines resulting from wildfires caused by land-clearing practices.

Earlier this week, Jokowi issued a permanent moratorium on such practices. One day later, on Tuesday, he threatened to sack officials fighting forest fires if they failed to extinguish the flames.

“I phoned the military commander and the chief of police to tell them to replace those who can’t resolve forest and land fires,” Jokowi said at the time.

Other discussions

In addition to their palm oil discussion, the leaders also discussed maritime and land boundaries along with protections for Indonesian domestic workers in Malaysia, according to news release from Malaysia’s ministry of foreign affairs. Without going into detail on any of the discussions, the news release also said Mahathir and Jokowi “touched on” Timor-Leste’s application to join the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“Yes it was a good discussion,” Mahathir told reporters about their one hour meeting from behind the steering wheel of a red Malaysian-made Proton car before driving Jokowi, who did not comment, to lunch.

After wrapping up their meeting and Jokowi’s two-day visit, the two leaders traveled to Singapore to attend National Day celebrations and did not hold a press conference.

Jokowi arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday night for his first official trip to visit another country’s leader since winning re-election in May. In June 2018, he played host to Mahathir who was making his first official foreign trip after assuming the prime minister’s post following the Pakatan Harapan stunning election upset a month earlier.

Posting on twitter from Putrajaya, the home of Malaysia’s government, Jokowi recounted the successes in the fields of petroleum, lumber, and natural resources and laid out a vision for the next step forward.

“Next, have faith, we shall develop the foundation of quality human resource that will master knowledge and technology,” he tweeted without elaborating.

Analyst James Chin, Asian studies director of Tasmania University, said the visit is normal for the leaders.

“As neighbors you don’t really have a choice if you share a border. There are of course a lot of outstanding issues, there are border issues, people smuggling issues, maid issues but in general, Malaysia has a good relation with Indonesia and Jokowi does not see Malaysia as a problem,” he told BenarNews.

Meanwhile academician Ahmad Marthada Mohamed of the University Utara Malaysia said the visit was a recognition of Malaysia’s relationship.

“It shows Indonesia commitment to Malaysia. Indonesia appreciates us in a diplomatic context and the visit will forge better ties between the two counties,” he said.

In 2017, trade between the two countries totaled U.S. $16.89 billion, making Malaysia Indonesia’s seventh-largest trading partner and third-biggest among ASEAN nations after Singapore and Thailand.

Ali Nufael in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.

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