The Hon. Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong became the Malaysian Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister in June. In one of his most comprehensive interviews since taking on this new role, Keong spoke with Palm Oil Today about the priorities, the economics and other global considerations impacting the Malaysian palm oil industry

Having grown up in Perak, one of the top three palm oil-producing states in Peninsular Malaysia, he understands how important Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil is to the livelihood of smallholders. He wants to continue improving their livelihoods as part of an overall plan to strengthen the industry.

Empowering smallholders

Malaysia will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2017. “I want to see to it that the industry expands and becomes more competitive globally, while keeping the empowerment of smallholders at its heart,” he said in the Palm Oil Today interview. “To do this, we must first counter unjustified negative and discriminatory perceptions of palm oil in European countries. Efforts must be sustained to engage with these countries, and to reinforce the many beneficial attributes of palm oil.

“In total, more than one million people are dependent upon smallholder farming,” Keong said. “This is an enormous contribution to the well-being and success of these families, their communities, and the nation as a whole.”

Keong also stressed the importance of moving toward new downstream value-added activities. “With homegrown natural resources at hand, it will be more cost-competitive to add value to downstream products. Higher demand for palm oil will ultimately deliver more revenue to the country and income to smallholders.

“I am confident that these approaches, coupled with relevant incentives, will go a long way toward empowering smallholders and contributing to the economic growth of the country,” he said.

Expanding Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) recognition

Keong also wants to seize opportunities to expand recognition of the MSPO standard and similar national schemes. “The MSPO standard was launched last year,” he says. “It is based on Malaysia’s Good Agricultural Practices for oil palm, as well as domestic laws and regulations, and our international obligations.”

He said his efforts to get MSPO certification are ongoing. “On a recent visit to Europe, I discussed the MSPO with members of Parliament and Ministers in different countries,” he shares. “The benefits of the MSPO are of great interest to many of our partners in Europe. It will require a concerted international effort to achieve recognition, but the palm oil industry will gain from this.”

Working with other countries

Keong added that regional cooperation, such as the establishment of the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC), is helping. “We are working closely with Indonesia on the major areas of operations. This is an important step forward for industry cooperation, since Indonesia and Malaysia are the two largest palm oil producers. We are confident that the CPOPC will be an effective organization that will communicate the benefits of palm oil globally. For example, a coordinated approach to trade policy can help producer countries to fight discrimination against palm oil.”

Keong also addressed other significant matters in the interview, including Malaysia’s commitment to environmental protection, palm oil trade agreements and its stance on the possibility of France implementing a new tax on palm oil.

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