UK ready to lift import duties on Malaysian palm oil

The UK government is planning to lift import tariffs on Malaysian palm oil, a product accused of widespread deforestation, as a price to pay for joining the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement, according to people involved in the talks, sparking outrage from green activists.

Great Britain finalization of entry conditions towards the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), an 11-member regional trade agreement, after two years of negotiations.

Malaysia, one of the pact members, has successfully demanded that the UK cut its tariffs on palm oil, currently at 12 percent, to zero immediately after entering the pact, people familiar with the talks say.

Alex Wijeratna, Senior Director of Deforestation Campaign Group Mighty Earth, said: “Taking off tariffs on Malaysian palm oil products without any environmental safeguards makes it very difficult for the UK to call itself a climate leader committed to combating deforestation and protecting valuable habitats.” . endangered species.”

People close to the matter said the UK at one point provided for a multi-year phase-out of palm oil tariffs, which Malaysia opposed.

The UK is expected to finalize a broad agreement on the pact over the next few weeks before a final signing takes place in the summer.

An earthmoving excavator is working on land suitable for an oil palm plantation.
Activists say deforestation for palm plantations is damaging biodiversity © Matthew Lambley/Alamy

Although the pact has little economic impact on the UK, ministers are actively promoting it as an example of an independent trade policy after Brexit.

The Department of Business and Trade, which is negotiating the CPTPP in the UK, said it could not comment on the talks.

Palm oil, which is harvested from oil palms, is used in a huge range of food and household products. Activists say deforestation to create palm plantations is damaging biodiversity, in particular destroying orangutan habitat. Malaysia is the world’s second largest palm oil producer after Indonesia, which is not a member of the CPTPP.

Compared to the EU, which maintains tariffs on palm oil while also planning tough new rules on deforestation-related imports, the UK has a relatively light approach to regulation: a deforestation-only law is defined as illegal according to local laws in producing countries.

Claire Oxborrow, Senior Sustainability Analyst at Friends of the Earth, said the plans were deeply concerning and could lead to more devastating losses in forest ecosystems.

“This concession runs counter to the government’s commitment to curb deforestation in UK supply chains. We need strong legislation that ensures that the products we consume in the UK do not harm forests, communities and wildlife overseas,” she said.

Since each member of the CPTPP has veto power over new countries joining the pact, the UK is in a weak position to resist demands to change its tariff regime and other policies. The pact also contains controversial investor-state dispute settlement provisions, allowing companies to sue governments for violations of public international law.

The negotiators said Canada, another member of the CPTPP, asked the UK to lift its rules on imports of growth hormone-raised beef, although London has rejected the request and is instead granting new quotas for hormone-free beef.

The minimum economic benefits for the UK from joining the CPTPP reflect both the UK’s geographical distance from the region and its existing bilateral agreements with most major economies, including Japan, Singapore, Mexico and Canada, which have been renewed since its EU membership.