The Palm Scribe

Indonesia Calls For Common Sustainability Criteria, Norms, Standards For Vegetable Oils 

Indonesian Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Mahendra Siregar is stressing the importance of common sustainability criteria as well as norms and standards for the entire vegetable oils sector and that governments and all stakeholders and interested party should work together on this.

In his keynote address at the opening of an online webinar titled “Vegetable Oil Sustainability: Opportunities for Increased Two-Way Trade Indonesia-Sweden,” on January 14, 2021, Siregar aired regrets that there was very little coordinated actions between governments, stakeholders and other interested parties in setting out these common sustainability criteria for all vegetable oils.

“There is very little coordinated action in addressing sustainability challenges at the level of vegetable oils in general and the related importance of setting out common sustainability criteria, norms, standards and certification for the sector as a whole,” Siregar said according to a copy of his keynote address obtained by the Palm Scribe.

Indonesia remained fully committed to working towards achieving sustainability, the vice minister said, adding that instrumental to this process was the need to exchange views between the concerned governments, stake holders and all interested parties, to encourage unity of purpose and wherever possible, coordinated actions.

“This is especially the case for the vegetable oil sector as forever increasing demand continues to exert pressure on the global land banks,” he said.

Siregar said that most obviously, the relative productivity of palm oil needs to be factored in to protecting the global land bank. 

Palm oil has the highest productivity per hectare compared to any other vegetable oil, with nine times more yield that its closest competitor per hectare. But the commodity, despite now efforts to produce its sustainably, remained the target of intensive attacks and boycott with its opponents citing environmental issues.

“Our Government is against the misuse of environmental issues as a guise for protectionism. Such measures taken are not only against multilateral Agreements but they only serve to cast a shadow over the very genuine efforts being undertaken by governments, industries and stakeholders to achieve sustainability,” he said.

Siregar said that although the vast majority of palm oil was certified as sustainable with robust monitoring in place, the discrimination continued both at government level as well as a number of coordinated campaigns.

He said that it was not to say that problems did not exist in the palm oil sector, but they can only meaningfully be addressed in the context of vegetable oils. 

“In the case of vegetable oil sustainability, any meaningful achievement also requires a holistic approach to the environment, not just to focus on tropical forests, however important this may be, but also, for example, soil and water contamination,” he said, citing as an example the cultivation of rape seed in the European Union. 

He said there was a need for a broad holistic approach to the environment such as exchanges between vegetable oil producing countries and regions towards coordinated rather than unilateral “cherry picking,” of the environmental issues to address.

Pointing out to the recent establishment of a joint working group on vegetable oils between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the European Union, Siregar said that Indonesia will formulate and encourage the adoption of vegetable oil standards and certification.

He also said that the working group was important in dispelling mutual distrust between the two regional groupings in the vegetable oil trade.

“The EU is a significant vegetable oils exporter, especially in the food, industrial sector to include oleo-chemicals, cosmetics; and it should be a priority to establish a framework for sustainability to allow for unhindered, seamless two-way trade in vegetable oils and products well into the future,” he said.

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