PUTRAJAYA, Jan 16 — Malaysia has handed over a letter to France explaining its position on the French National Assembly’s decision to declassify palm oil as biodiesel feedstock in the country.

Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said the letter from Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to French President Emmanuel Macron was handed over to the French Ambassador in Kuala Lumpur on Monday.

On December 19, 2018, the French National Assembly adopted an amendment to its 2019 Budget to exclude the use of palm oil as biodiesel feedstock and to end tax incentives for palm oil as of 2020.

Saifuddin said this was seen as a defacto ban as it would make palm oil highly uneconomical and the move would indirectly favour Europe’s home-grown products specifically rapeseed and sunflower oils.

“This action does not augur well for the global economy, particularly for palm oil producing countries such as Malaysia. It is detrimental to the 650,000 smallholders and two million Malaysians who are highly dependent on the industry for their livelihood,” he said in a statement.

To compound matters, Saifuddin said the French National Assembly had also decided to treat palm oil based biofuel as ‘regular fuel’ and not ‘green fuel’.

“This seems to be based on the misguided perception and generalisation that palm oil is linked to deforestation,” he added.

In view of this development, Saifuddin called on European Union (EU) countries to reject any move to hinder the use of palm oil biofuels as the proposed ban was clearly an act of discrimination.

““No other oilseed or oil bearing crop is negatively targeted as the oil palm industry,” he said, adding that the move might not only infringe World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules but was also against the spirit of globalisation and free trade which EU countries are so keen to promote and protect.

Malaysia, he said was committed to producing sustainable palm oil where Malaysian oil palm plantations were the first to acquire the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification and  through the mandatory Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification scheme, every drop of palm oil produced in Malaysia would be certified sustainable by 2020.

Saifuddin said much of Malaysia’s surface area was being successfully retained as forest land and was protected.

“Current national forest cover has been acknowledged at nearly 55.3 per cent of total land area in the country,” he said, adding that it was far higher than the forest cover in most large European countries including France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Saifuddin called on Malaysia’s EU partner countries “to treat us and our people as it would want themselves to be treated”.

“Our nations and people have been close friends and partners in diplomacy, trade and security for many decades. Our strong ties are underpinned by our common values of justice, fairness and trust,” he said, adding that Malaysia believed in cooperation rather than confrontation.

“In this context, such a discriminatory measure would undermine these values.

“In this respect and to guarantee a better future for all concerned, Malaysia hopes to engage with its sincere and friendly partners in order to come up with a just solution for our mutual economic development and prosperity,” he added. — Bernama