The Indonesian Association of Palm oil Producers (GAPKI) said it wanted Indonesia to engage in a legal battle against the European Union after the European Commission approved a “Delegated Act” that concluded the cultivation of oil palm was behind excessive deforestation and therefore made palm oil-based biodiesel ineligible for the EU transportation renewable energy scheme.

“It’s difficult talking about sustainability after the EU basically gave us a verdict that palm oil is not sustainable. We’re going to launch a legal battle with the EU against this decision,” GAPKI Deputy Chairman Togar Sitanggang told a sustainable palm oil seminar in Jakarta on March 14, 2019, commenting on the decision after finding out about it earlier in the day.

He said that Indonesia has so far complied and sought to meet whatever it was asked to do, through adherence to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2004 and its own Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) sustainability standard in 2011, adding that although Indonesia has shown the world that it had progressed in terms of sustainability in palm oil cultivation, the European Union appeared to have entirely ignored it.

“Whatever we argued against, our comments and feedback were not read by them. Every year they add more criteria for sustainability, it’s like a moving game that we will never achieve. So what is sustainability now?” he added.

Sitanggang said that Indonesia will move forward and do whatever it took to reach sustainability of its palm oil but added that “I think we should cancel our plan to talk to EU next month and go straight to Geneva and submit our case to WTO,” referring to the World Trade Organization.

Addressing the same seminar, Surina Ismail, group head of sustainability with Malaysia-based IOI group said that regardless how the European Union branded palm oil, the palm oil industry needed to move forward and show that it was sustainable.

“I hope, by us showing them, they’ll someday wake up and be educated. We are taking the sustainable way of growing palm oil and that is the only way to go,” she said, adding that she agreed that palm oil producing countries should go straight to WTO.

In a strong statement on Friday (15/3), Malaysia’s Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok said she opposed the EU decision, accusing the process as being based on “the politics of protectionism”.

“Palm oil producing countries, including Malaysia, have consistently outlined the facts that demonstrate that the Delegated Act is based on inaccurate and discriminatory factors,” she said in a 10-point statement opposing the EU decision.

Kok pointed out the EU decision highlighted an unacceptable double standard by the European Commission – it had failed to apply the same standard to soybean oil, despite the fact that the EU’s own research proves that soybean is a bigger contributor to deforestation.

The EU revised Renewable Energy Directive establishes an overall policy for the promotion and use of energy from renewable sources in the European Union. It sets limits on the high Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC-risk) biofuels, bio-liquids and biomass fuels with a significant expansion in a land with high carbon stock.

The limits will affect the amount of these fuels that the Member States can count when calculating the overall national share of renewables and the share of renewables in transport. These limits consist of a freeze at 2019 levels for the period 2021-2023, which will gradually decrease as of 31 December 2023 to zero by 2030.

Indonesia has already criticized the use of ILUC risk as criteria, saying that it was not only discriminatorily, but was also a criteria that was mostly not recognized outside of the European Union and the United States.

Indonesian officials have also said that Jakarta planned to challenge the EU’s restriction on the use of palm-oil based biofuels based on the method used to define its sustainability to the WTO.

The draft Delegated Act determines the level of ILUC risk based on the expansion of cultivated area into land with high carbon stock, with the average annual production area expansion since 2008 at higher than one percent for high ILUC risk and affecting more than 100,000 hectares. The share of such expansion into land with high-carbon stock is higher than 10 percent for the high ILUC risk feedstock.

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