A senior Indonesian diplomat is warning that although the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed to work on a milestone strategic partnership, European officials appeared to be still trying to sweep away under the carpet, the palm oil problems that had previously hindered such an agreement between the two regional blocks.
In December last year, EU and ASEAN ministers agreed to establish a Strategic Partnership between their two regional organizations. A decision long stalled by the contentious issue of palm oil which principally pitted the European Union and Indonesia and Malaysia, both members of ASEAN and the world’s two top producers of the commodity.
Both sides finally agreed on addressing sustainability at the level of all vegetable oils in general, not just of palm oil and that the criteria be based on the framework of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
But Indonesian Deputy Foreign Minister Mahendra Siregar warned that problems may loom ahead saying “When ASEAN Countries wanted to really be consistent with the principles, format and agreement reached at the ministerial level, that is to promote sustainable vegetable oils based on the SDGs, the European delegation went back again, pushing, cornering and arguing that the talks were not about sustainable vegetable oils but only on palm oil.”
In his keynote speech to an online talk show on the implication of the partnership, Siregar added that what the EU delegation appeared to want is to not talk about SDGs but how palm oil could be accepted in their renewable energy directives and relating it again to Indirect Land Usage Conversion (ILUC) yardstick that Indonesia, ASEAN and everyone outside of the European Union did not recognize.
Siregar said that the ten-member states of ASEAN were united and “solid” in their stance that any talks on strategic partnership would not take place “before the steps and goodwill of the EU to settle the problem of palm oil is taken.”
Vincent Piket, Head of the EU Delegation to Indonesia and Brunei who also attended the talk show did not directly comment on the allegation but said that the EU and ASEAN had made a very important step forward with the agreement on setting up a working group between the two organizations to discuss palm oil and other vegetable oils.
“We see this as a very important move forward, we are determined to carry this through,” he said.
Siregar also summarized ASEAN’s stance with regards to the strategic partnership, with the first point being that the Southeast Asian organization would not accept that palm oil, or coconut oil be “singled out” but should be treated just as with the other vegetable oils,
The second point as that ASEAN wanted a balanced approach in economic development, social advances and the environment and that they should be based on the framework that has been agreed by all nations at the United Nations, the SDGs.
Thirdly, environmental approaches should not only concern deforestation only but should be comprehensively holistic. He cited a recent study conducted by two Indonesian universities and a German one that showed the damaging impact of other vegetable oils on the environment were much worse than what Palm oil was causing.
“Let us push this momentum, so that it moves rapidly,” he said.