Indonesia to challenge ‘discriminative’ EU directive on palm oil

Palm oil, mainly produced in Indonesia and Malaysia, is used as feedstock for biofuels as well as being used in a wide variety of goods, ranging from food to soap. (File/Reuters)
Updated 31 January 2019
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Indonesia to challenge ‘discriminative’ EU directive on palm oil

JAKARTA: Indonesia intends to challenge an EU directive on renewable energy at the World Trade Organization, arguing the plan to curb the use of crops that cause deforestation will unfairly target palm oil, a senior Indonesian official told Reuters.
The world’s top producer of the oil is also reviewing its relations with the European Union over the issue and urging other Southeast Asian nations to defer plans to upgrade EU ties, said Mahendra Siregar, special staff at the foreign ministry.
The EU directive, known as RED II, aims to stop the use of crops that cause deforestation in transportation fuel by 2030. Environmentalists blame a rapid expansion of Indonesian palm plantations for a massive clearance of forests that were home to endangered tigers, orang-utans and elephants.
A challenge from Indonesia on the policy would escalate its efforts to safeguard sales to its second-biggest palm oil market. The EU accounted for around 15 percent of Indonesia’s total palm exports of more than $15 billion last year.
Siregar said palm oil will be labelled a “high risk” crop — indicating its potential to result in deforestation — in an act attached to RED II due to be issued in early February. Indonesia will challenge both RED II and the act at the WTO’s dispute settlement body after it is issued, he said.
The WTO body can order members to remove any trade barriers if it finds that the policies breach free trade rules.
A government document outlining Indonesia’s stance on the EU policy and reviewed by Reuters said the method used to assess “Indirect Land Use Change” (ILUC), which aims to measure the risk of unintended carbon emissions, was not internationally recognized and not applicable in a tropical region.
“The criteria listed in ILUC gives advantages to local European Union commodities such as rapeseed oil,” it said.
Indonesia letter to ASEAN
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in a letter to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that developments in the EU hurting the interests of ASEAN palm oil-producing states have caused it to defer “elevation of ASEAN-EU dialogue relations to a strategic level.”
The Jan. 14 letter, also reviewed by Reuters, urged other members of ASEAN to follow suit.
“All Indonesia-EU relationships will be overviewed related to that discriminative policy by the EU,” Siregar said.
Asked about the letter, a spokesman at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta said: “It is up to the member states to decide.”
Rafael de Bustamante Tello, first counsellor at the EU embassy in Jakarta, said: “The EU considers the RED II to be in line with the EU’s international commitments, including its WTO obligations.”
The European Commission will make sure “achievement of the EU’s renewable energy goals goes hand in hand with the fair and rules-based international trade regime that we so strongly defend,” he said.
De Bustamante also said that during an EU-ASEAN ministerial meeting in Brussels last week the two blocs decided to form a new joint working group to address issues related to palm oil.
In January last year, the WTO ruled in favor of Indonesia on several challenges to anti-dumping duties that the EU had imposed on its biodiesel exports. The duties had effectively stopped the trade, but exporters were able to resume shipments to Europe around April.
Palm oil, mainly produced in Indonesia and Malaysia, is used as feedstock for biofuels as well as being used in a wide variety of goods, ranging from food to soap.


Hong Kong police begin to clear streets of protesters

An ambulance is pictured surrounded by thousands of protesters dressed in black during a new rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong on June 16, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 2 min 47 sec ago
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Hong Kong police begin to clear streets of protesters

  • Nearly 2 million of the city’s 7 million people turned out on Sunday, according to estimates by protest organizers

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police and protesters faced off Monday as authorities began trying to clear the streets of a few hundred who remained near the city government headquarters after massive demonstrations that stretched deep into the night before.
The police asked for cooperation in clearing the road. Protesters, many in masks and other gear to guard against possible use of tear gas, responded with chants, some kneeling in front of the officers. The move came after activists rejected an apology from the city’s top leader for her handling of legislation that has stoked fears of expanding control from Beijing in this former British colony.
Hundreds of protesters sat on and along a main road through downtown, but they were scattered over a relatively wide area.
Activists called on Hong Kong residents to boycott classes and work, though it was unclear how many might heed that call.
Nearly 2 million of the city’s 7 million people turned out on Sunday, according to estimates by protest organizers. Police said 338,000 were counted on the designated protest route in the “peak period” of the march. A week earlier as many as 1 million people demonstrated to voice their concern over Hong Kong’s relations with mainland China in one of the toughest tests of the territory’s special status since Beijing took control in a 1997 handover.
After daybreak Monday, police announced that they want to clear the streets. Soon after, police lined up several officers deep and faced off against several hundred demonstrators on a street in central Hong Kong.
The night before, as protesters reached the march’s end thousands gathered outside the city government headquarters and the office of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who on Saturday suspended her effort to force passage of the bill.
Hong Kong residents worry that allowing some suspects to be sent for trial in mainland China would be another of many steps chipping away at Hong Kong’s freedoms and legal autonomy. One concern is that the law might be used to send criminal suspects to China to potentially face vague political charges, possible torture and unfair trials.
The protesters are demanding that Lam scrap the proposal for good and that she step down.
Protesters are also angered over the forceful tactics by police use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other forceful measures as demonstrators broke through barricades outside the city government’s headquarters to quell unrest during demonstrations on Wednesday, and over Lam’s decision to call the clashes a riot. That worsens the potential legal consequences for those involved.
In a statement issued late Sunday, Lam noted the demonstrations and said the government “understands that these views have been made out of love and care for Hong Kong.”
“The chief executive apologizes to the people of Hong Kong for this and pledges to adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public,” it said.
Not enough, said the pro-democracy activists.
“This is a total insult to and fooling the people who took to the street!” the Civil Human Rights Front said in a statement.
Protesters have mainly focused their anger on Lam, who had little choice but to carry through dictates issued by Beijing, where President Xi Jinping has enforced increasingly authoritarian rule. But some were skeptical that having Lam step down would help.
“It doesn’t really matter because the next one would be just as evil,” said Kayley Fung, 27.
Many here believe Hong Kong’s legal autonomy has been significantly diminished despite Beijing’s insistence that it is still honoring its promise, dubbed “one country, two systems,” that the territory can retain its own social, legal and political system for 50 years after the handover in 1997.
After Lam announced she was suspending the legislation to avoid more violence and allow additional debate, Chinese government officials issued multiple statements backing that decision. Lam, however, made clear she was not withdrawing it.
She has sidestepped questions over whether she should quit and also defended how the police dealt with last week’s clashes with demonstrators.
Lam insists the extradition legislation is needed if Hong Kong is to uphold justice, meet its international obligations and not become a magnet for fugitives. The proposed bill would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.
So far, China has been excluded from Hong Kong’s extradition agreements because of concerns over its judicial independence and human rights record.
Prosecutions of activists, detentions without trial of five Hong Kong book publishers and the illegal seizure in Hong Kong by mainland agents of at least one mainland businessman are among moves in recent years that have unnerved many in the city of 7 million.