STOP dirty deals with palm oil!

Airbus A380 - dirty deals with palm oil Palm oil-based jet fuel would be anything but "green" or sustainable. (© Public Domain - Collage Rettet den Regenwald)

Indonesia and the EU are negotiating CEPA, a free trade agreement. In its present form, it would drive rainforest destruction by opening the floodgates for palm oil imports to Europe. Indonesian and European NGOs are calling for palm oil to be excluded from the agreement. Please sign our petition and speak out against CEPA.

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To: the negotiators of the Indonesia-EU CEPA agreement

“Free trade in palm oil would be a disaster for the planet. It’s time the EU took its own climate studies seriously.”

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Negotiators are currently focusing on palm oil in their efforts to hammer out the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between Indonesia and the European Union.

Indonesian environmental groups are demanding that palm oil be excluded from the agreement, as they fear that CEPA will give the palm oil industry a boost, driving further deforestation and social conflict.

“Free trade only benefits corporations,” says Yuyun Harmono of the WALHI environmental network. With rainforests being cleared and peatlands destroyed to make way for plantations, supposedly “green” palm oil biofuels are more damaging to the climate than the fossil fuels they replace. Yuyun Harmono and other environmental activists are therefore calling for an immediate freeze on new oil palm plantations.

Indonesia produces well over half of the world’s palm oil, and the EU is the second-largest consumer after India. Numerous peat forests have been cleared for plantations, and every year the pollution from the burning peat soils causes an ecological and humanitarian catastrophe. 

After the massive forest fires of 2015, the Indonesian government banned the planting of oil palms on burnt land and on peat. RKK, a supplier to Unilever – the pioneer of “sustainable” palm oil – was found guilty of arson. 

Parallel to the free-trade talks, the EU will be deciding on its energy policy until 2030, and palm oil will be an important factor here. According to studies made on behalf of the European Commission, the production and use of palm oil biodiesel causes three times the carbon emissions of fossil diesel. A large majority in the European Parliament advocates banning the use of palm oil as biofuel. Free trade in palm oil would therefore undermine the EU’s efforts to reduce the environmental impact of its energy policy.


Palm oil, arson and Unilever

Palm oil is the leading cause of Indonesia’s high greenhouse gas emissions. In 2015, after months of forest fires and choking pollution levels, the Indonesian government identified dozens of companies responsible for millions of hectares of torched forest and peat land. To date, only one of the perpetrators has been taken to court: Unilever supplier RKK, a plantation company of the Makin Group. Our partner Feri Irawan played a key role in this first success. The RKK case has shown that “sustainable palm oil” is little more than a marketing scam.

The reality of palm oil: Asimetris (trailer)

The stark realities of the palm oil industry are shown in the new Indonesian documentary Asimetris, which was released in March 2018.

CEPA – Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement

CEPA, like other free trade agreements such as TTIP and TTP, is geared toward far-reaching liberalization and market deregulation. It is thus designed to serve the interests of corporations at the expense of human rights and existing environmental regulations. Civil society organizations are calling on the parties to negotiate an agreement that provides for a healthy environment, climate-friendly economy and decent quality of life for local people, and a moratorium on further negotiations until such a basis has been put in place.

The I-EU-CEPA negotiations were launched in 2016. The fourth round of talks, which took place behind closed doors in February 2018, covered a variety of trade barriers, in all likelihood including those pertaining to palm oil. While the details are not known, a report will be issued “in due course” according to a press release. The fifth round is planned for summer 2018 in Brussels.

EU import tariffs and trade barriers currently hamper Indonesia's exports to the EU somewhat. The Indonesian government is interested in removing those barriers and having the EU recognize the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) seal as proof of sustainability. The EU’s recognition of ISPO would undermine ecological, labor, social and health standards, however. Accepting the standard would essentially declare all palm oil from Indonesia to be “sustainable”, and thus suitable for use as biofuel for motor vehicles in the EU.

Indonesia considers environmental and climate concerns to be nothing more than economic discrimination, and civil society campaigns against deforestation and industrial plantations to be unfair attacks. The Indonesian government would even like to see CEPA include provisions against campaigns that oppose palm oil. Leaked documents obtained by AFP News call for the EU to legislate against “negative” messaging and campaigns with “misleading nutrition, health and/or environmental claims” in an apparent bid to head off criticism about palm oil’s impact.

While Indonesia has put various forest conservation measures in place, it is undermining them with an ambitious biofuel program to boost domestic consumption of palm oil. The blending rate for diesel is now 30%, and biofuel producers receive generous assistance. In the first nine months of 2017 alone, Indonesia subsidized the five largest palm oil companies to the tune of more than €100 million for the production of biofuel.


To: the negotiators of the Indonesia-EU CEPA agreement

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Indonesia is making great efforts to mitigate the serious consequences of oil palm cultivation such as forest fires, the draining of peat soils and the associated impacts on the climate. This is of the utmost importance to protect the climate and biodiversity.

Initial moves to aid the victims of land grabbing, deforestation and exploitation by the palm oil industry have also been impressive.

Free trade in palm oil, however, would undermine those efforts and lead to further ecological and social catastrophes.

The voices of those in the EU who do not want to be complicit in rainforest destruction and human rights violations for more consumption – especially with regard to energy and fuel – are becoming louder. Furthermore, it has been shown that sustainability labels cannot solve the problems of oil palm cultivation.

Environmental organizations from Indonesia and Europe therefore warn against making palm oil a subject of the negotiations and call on you to reject CEPA in its present form. Guarantees for a healthy environment, climate protection and decent living conditions are crucial to a sound agreement.

The economic interests of the EU and Indonesia as parties to the agreement must never take precedence over peoples’ right to a healthy environment.

We therefore call on you to exclude palm oil from the scope of the agreement to help ensure that neither nature nor peoples’ rights are sacrificed to business interests.

Yours faithfully,

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