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Sun, 2019-03-24 23:03

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will buy planes from China if the European Union (EU) goes ahead with a ban on palm oil, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Sunday at the launch of a charm offensive to persuade people to back the controversial crop.

He said the bloc had been unfair on Malaysia and other palm oil producing countries because of its preferential treatment of soy-based and vegetable-based oils made by EU countries.

“If we have to buy fighter jets, we will have to buy from China. I think they do not lack in technology,” said Mahathir. But the country did not need very “sophisticated” airplanes and only needed small aircraft, he told reporters at the launch of Love MY Palm Oil, a campaign to rally Malaysians to support the government’s agenda. “We will do this because they (the EU) have unfairly prohibited the entry of palm oil.”

The campaign is a push back against anti-palm oil campaigners, who say the crop causes deforestation and the destruction of wildlife.

Mahathir said 600,000 people stood to lose their livelihoods if palm oil estates were to shut.

Malaysia has been railing against EU anti-palm oil measures since December, when French lawmakers voted to remove palm oil from the country’s bio-fuel scheme from next January.

Malaysia is the second biggest palm oil producer after Indonesia. But analysts had different opinions about the impact of a palm oil ban on Malaysia’s economy.

“Most people do not realize that this is not a new thing. The first call to boycott Malaysian palm oil actually happened in the 1990s, a long time ago. The NGOs have always been unhappy with palm oil plantations,” Prof. James Chin, director of the Asia Institute, told Arab News.

Dr. Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said the EU was a major palm oil buyer, but that it was not the largest or only palm oil buyer for Malaysia and Indonesia. 

“For the EU they can switch to a number of alternative oil products, but of course the costs would be higher,” he told Arab News. “This is a tough period for planters and palm oil producers, with prices hitting another low cycle.” 

Thus, every bit of palm oil sale is to be fought over tooth and nail,” he told Arab News. “Malaysia has had shifting rhetoric on diplomatic and economic relations with a number of major powers, so this is perhaps just the latest quid pro quo stance to counter the palm oil ban.” 

He said Malaysia may change its position as it had encouraged diversification of its crops.

“At the end, the business decision by many planters is still that oil palm would bring in faster and more profits. The durian industry is taking off too.”

But Chin said the impact of an EU palm oil ban would be damaging for Malaysia in the long run as it may have a domino effect, especially in the North American markets.

“My guess is Malaysia and Indonesia will be mounting a joint campaign to stop the European Parliament from passing the rules as they have done joint lobbying before to members of the European Parliament.”

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