BOGOR, Indonesia – Indonesia imperatively needs competent negotiators who are knowledgeable in all aspects of the palm oil sector, in order to effectively deal with the relentless attacks against the commodity, experts are saying here.
Rosediana Suharto , Executive Director of the Responsible Sustainable Palm Oil Initiative (RPOI) who has been advising various government ministries and institutions for decades on trade and agriculture, said that with the onslaught of campaigns against palm oil, specially produced in Indonesia, the country needed a team of competent negotiators who are proficient in a wide range of subjects related to the commodity.
“What needs to be done is to equip the negotiation team so as to allow this negotiation team to talk about palm oil, talk about trade, talk about various issues and this is what is difficult,” said Suharto who has a broad range of experience in lobbying and pressuring in international negotiations on behalf of the government.
Suharto, who is also the Executive Chairman of the Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) Commission, told a national informal discussion on palm oil held at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture on March 14, 2018, that said that this competent negotiators team also needed to be not only compact but also be in possession of the correct data and definitions.
She said that those competent negotiators team needed to have these data and definitions to be able to respond not only to queries but also accusations related to palm oil.
Although many of the accusations were true, a lot were also made up to target palm oil. She said that taking into example the European Union which will gradually phase out the use of palm oil in its energy and fuel program and impose stricter conditions on imports of palm oil, including from Indonesia, many of the accusation and arguments were faulty and were specially made to present trade barrier for palm oil.
“This is not a trade war, this is a trade distortion, trade damage, this is a 100 percent application of trade barriers,” she said.
Dodik Ridho Nurrochmat, the Vice Chancellor of the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, addressing the same informal discussion, took the example o the European Union’s planned move to halt imports of palm oil as an example of a move that was not environmentally motivated. He said that if the European Union halt its purchase of palm oil, that would mean that other vegetable oil would need to offset the resulting shortage. And this would mean an expansion of their plantation in order to boost their production,
“The expansion of other vegetable oil-producing crops is much faster and much wider than that of palm oil, but what is made into a problem is always palm oil only, The matter is not only a mere environmental one but clearly is an economic and political issue. This is clear,” Nurrochmat said.
Oil palm, he said was the most efficient oil-producing crop and other crops would need to expand much wider in order to produce the same quantity of oil.
“If we allow supply from non-palm oil crops, that would mean that we allow plantation expansion for non-palm oil crops some ten times wider because their productivity is ten times lower,” he said.
He also said that it was unfair to compare palm oil and its environment with that of forests. “Palm oil environment should be compared to that of other vegetable oil producing crops,” he said.
Ahmad Manggabarani a former director general for plantation who is now the director of the Forum for the Development of Strategic and Sustainable Plantations, said that the country should not be distracted by the accusation saying that those accusations would only stop when those country making them were able to produce palm oil on their own.
“Instead of listening to them, it would be much better if we continue to work,” Manggabarani said. He said that the government should just focus on three matters — rejuvenation of farmer’s plantations, and devise a program to synergize the efforts of the various stakeholders in replanting smallholders’ plantations.
Suharto also called on researchers in Indonesia, to come out with research that could actually come in support of the country’ position and policy regarding palm oil. She said that whenever she comes to a negotiation, the team from the other camp usually has already conducted researches that backed up their position and therefore it was hard for her to be able to deal with it.
“Our researchers should conduct research… so as to be able to provide support, so that we can come out of the problems,” Suharto said.
Budi Mulyanto, from the Department for Soil Sciences and Land Resources of the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, cautioned that just producing results of researchers was not enough but they had to be also published in a respectable scientific journal before they can be accepted.