KOTA KINABALU, May 24 — After a visit to Sabah’s palm oil plantations, European Union (EU) Ambassador to Malaysia Michalis Rokas said that he will correct misconceptions that his counterparts in Europe might have about the industry.

Rokas, who visited several plantations in Sabah’s east coast including Sawit Kinabalu, agreed that there is a misconception about palm oil among the EU countries but said he was impressed by the environmental conscious practices implemented by the state.

“I have seen it myself and it (conservation efforts) is very commendable,” he said when he met with Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor today.

“But the EU doesn’t know about this yet. We need to go back and give the true impression of the situation in Sabah. I will convey this to Brussels (EU headquarters). I want to correct and enhance the view on the oil palm industry in Malaysia.

“Your forest is an asset, a world heritage and that is why we care about it,” he said while praising the Sabah government for their effort to protect Sabah’s vast forest.

Rokas also said he was thrilled to have spotted an orangutan and its baby although only from afar, and noted that air surveys also showed many orangutan nests atop the trees indicating a healthy population.

The dignitary offered assistance to the state on biodiversity conservation with EU funding as well as improving collaboration between the EU and Sabah through technical support and expertise.

“Malaysia is an important country to EU. About 40 per cent of EU trade passes through the South China Sea and Malaysia is strategically located in the maritime route, such as in the Straits of Malacca. There is much to explore in Sabah,” he said, adding that he looks forward to enhancing partnership efforts.

In a statement, Hajiji welcomed the ambassador’s commitment to highlighting Sabah’s development priority in agriculture, industrial and tourism as well as the energy sector to the EU.

He earlier asked Rokas to correct misconceptions about poor conservation practices of the palm oil industry.

Hajiji said Sabah, the largest oil palm producer in the country, has all this while been promoting sustainable practice in oil palm cultivation contrary to what the EU anti-palm oil lobbyists have been spreading.

“Sabah has done much to meet the national commitment of maintaining 50 per cent under forest cover and ensuring 52 per cent of the state’s forest as permanent forest reserves, parks and wildlife conservation areas,” he said.

Hajiji said the state government is keen to forge greater partnership with the EU to tackle environmental issues and welcomed the EU’s offer of support and expertise in this area.

Sabah’s total trade with the EU was about RM4.2 billion — RM3.3 billion in export and RM800 million in imports.

“EU is an important trading partner. We want to see more investments and increased trade with the EU,” he said.

*A previous version of this story contained errors which have since been corrected.