Key ASEAN members team up against EU’s deforestation law

Marta Pacheco
AEC Asean Economic Community map

Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Key ASEAN members are angry at the EU over the bloc’s deforestation law which forbids the entry into Europe of products that haven’t been sourced in a sustainable way, especially the destruction of standing trees and rainforests. 

Indonesia and Malaysia teamed up against Brussels saying the bloc “can’t dictate us” as the EU’s Green Deal remains a priority in the 27-nation bloc’s 2023 ASEAN strategy. The EU decision will effectively stop suppliers from selling palm oil, cattle, soy, coffee, cocoa, timber, rubber, and products made from these commodities.

Malaysia and Indonesia

ASEAN countries are showing increasing dissatisfaction towards the EU regulation since it represents a deliberate action to restrict palm oil exports from Indonesia and other oil palm-producing countries.

Indonesian President Jokowi and Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said they “agreed to strengthen cooperation to boost markets and combat discrimination against palm oil”.

“The EU deforestation policy is a step against good kinship. Jokowi’s speech has made it clear that […] the policy is of concern to ASEAN and the EU cannot dictate. This is an opportunity for Indonesia and Malaysia to join forces and be united in our voices. We stand with Jokowi on this matter,” said Ahmad Yusof Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister. 

The ASEAN reaction came after the EU deforestation regulation text was approved by the European Parliament Environmental Committee (ENVI) on 16 January. However, the Committee vote is not final, allowing the Indonesian government and the palm oil sector to continue refuting components of the law and engaging with their allies to put pressure on the EU to reverse course.

EU trade ban

After the Parliament’s vote, Indonesian Palm Oil Association’s (GAPKI) President Joko Supriyono summarized the industry’s position: “The vote is a step towards another EU trade ban on Indonesian palm oil. The EU Parliament is showing a clear disregard for Indonesia, the largest economy in Southeast Asia. The Parliament’s proposal undermines forest protection, by pursuing confrontation instead of cooperation.”

In comparison, Supriyono noted the “constructive approach” approach that Indonesia has with Norway, to guarantee forest protections going forward, calling it “unilateral and antagonistic”.

The palm oil industry in Indonesia defends that deforestation has fallen by more than three quarters over the past two decades and reached all-time lows and that the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) is on track to become the world’s largest-ever sustainability scheme for any commodity.

Speaking to POLITICO, Ferdi De Ville, a professor in European political economy at the University of Ghent, noted that the deforestation law is filled with hypocrisy, arguing that the EU is preventing developing nations from doing what Europe and the developed world had done for years to support the development and critical industries: “Now, not only is the EU telling them what to do, but a lot of developing countries also feel they are now prohibited to do what Western countries have done for decades: industrialize without thinking about pollution and subsidizing infant industries.”

EU-ASEAN summit

The diplomatic row builds on the EU and ASEAN members gathering in Brussels, in December, on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of EU-ASEAN Dialogue Relations at the EU-ASEAN Commemorative Summit. The two blocs discussed areas of future cooperation, including trade, green and digital transitions.

EU-ASEAN Secretary-General Dato’ Lim Jock Hoi advocated for the promotion of “trade facilitation” and a “more liberalized trade” in order to strengthen the resilience of supply chains that have been deeply affected by a sequence of world events.”We commit to developing the EU-ASEAN Strategic Partnership that is based on international law, mutual interest, and mutually beneficial cooperation on issues of common concern and the principle of equality,” reads a joint statement signed by the leaders of the blocs at the end of the December summit.

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Marta Pacheco is the Brussels Morning European Commission Editor. She studied Political Science and Media & Journalism at the Catholic University of Portugal (UCP). A former Blue Book trainee of the European Commission, Marta has a keen interest in global affairs and experience in EU and diplomatic affairs reporting.