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By Brian Monteith – 5 minute read

FINALLY JOINING the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) will be a great moment for our Global Britain. As our research has shown over more than two decades of studying the ONS export data, the real economic growth the UK has to tap into and benefit from is already outside the EU and primarily in the trading nations of Asia and the Pacific. This trend will only accelerate.

Joining the CPTPP will open up huge opportunities for commerce that were simply not available while we remained inside the EU.

The CPTPP is different from the EU because it is all about trade – and encouraging more trade. It is not a political union and as such it does not carry a huge deadweight of costs and bureaucracy. Nor does it seek to tell its member nations what labelling its goods should have, how the cork of a bottle of fizz should be constructed or how bent (or straight) a particular fruit (or vegetable) should be.

These issues are left instead to competitive markets and the trading nations to decide for themselves (if at all). This in part explains why such countries are enjoying higher growth than the EU – the other (larger) part being their drive towards free trade rather than erecting trade barriers. If they wish to increase the size of state intervention through welfare and government regulations it is to their cost – and risk to their economic growth.

You can therefore imagine that in the coming months opponents of the UK’s entry into the CPTPP will throw everything – including the CE-marked Brussels-approved kitchen sink – to lobby against its accession. This lobbying will happen not just in the UK but also in the ten CPTPP member nations, reflecting the fact that each has a veto to the UK’s accession.

Naturally each of those member nations will take the opportunity to look at any impediments to open and free trade the UK has erected in the past – most likely bestowed upon us from those days when our colonial masters in Brussels determined our tariff arrangements and regulations to suit other countries’ producer interests (like Olive and sunflower oil farmers).

We can then expect the full force of producer interests in the UK to lobby the media and MPs to put a spanner in the final accession process so consumers cannot benefit from competition, lower prices – and yes, often higher standards.

Many exaggerated claims about maintaining standards in livestock husbandry, environmental conditions or health and safety etc will be heard on the Today Programme and be all over the Financial Times, Guardianand other supporters of Fortress Europe. Indeed the carping, whinging and gnashing of teeth has already started when it was reported in the FT (where else) that the UK is expected to remove its existing import duties, ranging up to 12%, on Palm Oil imported from Malaysia.

Quicker than you could reach for the Peanut Butter the advocates of Water Melon* environmental politics were describing it as a singular reason to not join the CPTPP at all. It would surely mean greater deforestation as ‘more’ natural forest is cleared to grow Oil Palm plantations – and the survival of the Orangutang would undoubtedly be threatened. All of it oblivious to the truth and how vegetable oil markets work.

As usual the facts are an inconvenience. Why? Because growing Oil Palms is better than growing Soybean, Sunflowers, Rapeseed or Olives (among the many sources of vegetable oil). Why? Because the oil yield of the Oil Palm is significantly higher than all the others. Using Palm Oil makes sense because the other sources of edible oils for cooking and food manufacture would need greater amounts of land to be cleared for cultivation (see below). More Orangutangs or other species would be put at risk through the enormous amount of clearance required were Malaysia to change its crop.

Secondly, Malaysia is a shining example of a country encouraging sustainable Palm Oil production, it has been reducing it deforestation as a result and it makes sense to reward its farmers by giving them our trade.

Surprise, surprise the EU is responding to its big vegetable oil farmers’ lobby by introducing new, higher barriers to Palm Oil imports – ignoring the advances in Malaysia and punishing its consumers at a time of high food inflation. The UK has no need for such indulgencies through tariff barriers and hidden subsidies and can instead let the market decide. Which oils it should buy.

When it comes to protests about saving the environment the reality is that rather than being demonised by Water Melon NGO’s for rewarding Malaysia’s farmers who have turned to sustainable farming, the UK should be applauded for showing leadership in tackling deforestation and protecting precious habitats of endangered species. Getting into the CPTPP will be a Brexit bonus – on top of helping save the Orangutang.

[*Water melons – Green on the outside but bright Red on the inside]

Inconvenient truths for Water Melons to consider:

  • 90% of the palm oil imported into the continent of Europe (including the UK) is sustainable and does not cause deforestation.
  • Oil yields for palm per hectare is almost 6-10 times that of other oilseeds such as rapeseed, soybean, olive, or sunflower.
  • Because of its high yield, palm oil requires around one-ninth the land of substitutes like rapeseed, olive and soybean. To keep pace with growing food demand would require 36 million hectares of additional Oil Palm land, whereas soybean, the second most popular oil crop, would need 204 million more hectares.
  • According to Global Forest Watch, primary forest loss in Malaysia decreased by almost 70% between 2014 and 2020. According to the WRI, 2020 is the fourth straight year that palm oil deforestation has been trending down.
  • World deforestation from palm oil has fallen to a four-year low: Deforestation in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea attributed to the development of oil palm plantations has fallen to its lowest level since 2017, according to satellite analysis published from risk analysis group Chain Reaction Research (CRR).
  • NGO, Global Canopy, has singled out palm oil supply chains as doing a better job than others in providing deforestation commitments: 72% of Palm Oil companies compared to the “pulp and paper (49%), soy (40%), beef (30%) and leather (28%)” sectors.
  • University of Bath scientists recently showed in Nature Sustainability that banning palm oil could drive greater rates of deforestation, by switching demand to less efficient edible oils like sunflower or rapeseed which use more land, water and fertiliser.
  • According to Global Forests Report 2020 by Carbon Disclosure Project, palm oil companies have the highest levels of rigorous no-deforestation commitments (20%), comprehensive risk assessments (25%) and integration of forest-related issues into all parts of their long-term strategic business plans (57%).
  • Malaysia’s Sime Darby Plantation, the world’s largest producer of certified sustainable palm oil, received recently a clean bill of health from US Customs, and has committed to being net-zero by 2050. The company also plans to reforest a 400-hectare (ha) area of peat plantations in Sabah and Sarawak, and to date, it has forest set-aside programmes of more than 40,000ha, with over 1.9 million forest trees planted.

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Brian Monteith has worked in public relations for forty years, initially in the City, then Scotland and finally as an international consultant in Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia. A former member of the European and Scottish parliaments, he is Director of Communications at Global Britain and editor of ThinkScotland.org.

Photo by yevgeniy11  from Adobe Stock

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