Why We Should not Underestimate Swiss Referendum of Boycotting Indonesian Palm Oil
And there is another boycott of palm oil in importer countries. After the European Union with its RED II ILUC/DR, United Kingdom with its Due-diligence policy, and the United States which has banned imports of palm oil from Malaysian companies, the threat of palm oil boycott has also occurred in Switzerland.
Uniterre, which is an NGO in Switzerland, with a farmer and supported by farmers’ unions in this country succeeded in collecting public support for proposing a referendum to reject imports of palm oil from Indonesia since mid-2019. Through this referendum, Uniterre and others anti-palm oil parties want palm oil not to be included in the points of the trade cooperation agreement in the Indonesia-EFTA Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IE-CEPA) which was ratified on 19 December 2019.
In this agreement, it was stated that the two parties exempt some commodities from taxes and cut the import tariff for Indonesian palm oil by 40 percent. This show that there is an opportunity to import palm oil from Indonesia, even though the import volume is limited up to only 10 thousand tons.
The argument behind the proposed referendum to boycotting palm oil is because anti-palm oil parties in Switzerland think that the Indonesian government does not want to apply environmental and social standards to prevent the damage of tropical forests that are linked with palm oil production. Unittere also spotlighting about social issues of workers in oil palm plantations such as low wages and child labor. Other anti-palm oil parties in Switzerland also believe that palm oil production is bad for the climate and the environment as well as for smallholders and indigenous peoples.
The real fact behind the argument for the referendum proposed by Unittere and other anti-palm oil parties in Switzerland is triggered by business competition. The vegetable oils produced in this country, such as rapeseed oil and sunflower oil, are unable to compete with palm oil from Indonesia. Indonesian palm oil is very competitive in the Switzerland market and encourages the development of the food industry, toiletries industry, personal care, and cosmetics industries that use palm oil as raw material.
Currently, Switzerland consumers use cooking oil from the pressed canola seed/rapeseed or sunflower oil produced by Switzerland farmers. Butter traded in Switzerland are also mostly produced from cow’s milk from local farmers. Import palm oil into the Switzerland market and be used by industry, it will reduce the consumption of vegetable oil and milk products produced by domestic farmers. This was confirmed by a farmer who is the one that supports the referendum, Jelena Filiponik, who said that with the trade agreement and opening access to palm oil will cause Switzerland farmers would be eliminated.
As the framework used by anti-palm oil NGOs in general, Uniterre and other anti-palm oil parties use black campaigns such as the causes of deforestation and global warming, and exploitation of labor to phase-out palm oil through referendums, when in fact their referendum was used as protectionism from business competition. However, the palm oil boycott movement has received support from the Switzerland government through the Bundeskanzlei (Switzerland Constitutional Court) by approving the referendum in November 2020. With this agreement, around eight million Switzerland people will vote to decide agree or not with palm oil imports. It is estimated that after this referendum is approved and passes verification, the referendum process will be held in March 2021.
Tungkot Sipayung, as the Executive Director of PASPI, advised to extinguish “the fire” of the black campaign of oil palm while it was still small, so that it did not grow into a big fire that burned down the surroundings. The message refers to that although the export volume of the Indonesian palm oil to Switzerland is relatively small, but the campaign to boycott palm oil should not be underestimated.
Therefore, the role of the Indonesian Government through Indonesian diplomats in Switzerland and Europe is urgently needed to make intensive efforts to muffle the campaign. Besides that, palm oil associations in Indonesia are also expected to make efforts to extinguish the boycott plan through the Business to Business (B to B) relationship.
The Indonesian government through the Indonesian Embassy in Bern has responded to the referendum as a form of the democratic process and their internal affairs that must be respected. However, the Indonesian Embassy has also made efforts to handle this by coordinating with some agencies both in Indonesia and in Switzerland by providing information related to the improvement of governance (moratorium and ISPO), conditions, and standards for palm oil production in Indonesia to local media and its role in increasing the welfare of oil palm farmers. The information is published on blog in English and will be added in German, French, and Italian.
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