The EU and Malaysia's forests


Southeast Asia's view on the new regulation that blocks imports of palm oil resulting from deforestation

“Can Europe save forests without killing jobs in Malaysia?” This was asked in a recent New York Times article, evidence that this is a particularly relevant topic not only at a bilateral but also international level. The European Union's looming ban on imports linked to deforestation has been hailed as a new standard to be met in climate policy - a significant step to protect the world's forests, which helps remove planet-killing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere . “The law requires traders to trace the origins of a mind-boggling variety of products: beef and books, chocolate and coal, lipstick and leather. For the European Union, the mandate, which will come into force next year, is a testament to the bloc's role as a global leader on climate change,” writes the New York Times, which however adds: “The move, however, remained caught in conflicting currents about how to address the economic and political trade-offs required by climate change.” In fact, developing countries are certainly not content, with Malaysia and Indonesia among the most explicit in criticizing the new legislation. Together, the two Southeast Asian countries supply 85% of the world's palm oil, one of seven critical products covered by the European Union ban. And I argue that the law puts their economies at risk. In their eyes, writes the New York Times, rich and technologically advanced countries (and former colonial powers) "are once again dictating terms and changing the rules of trade when it suits them". This view accords with developing countries' complaints that the dominant international order neglects their concerns. The dispute over palm oil also contains a central point in the economics of climate change, underlines the US newspaper: the thesis according to which middle- and low-income nations are forced to bear the cost of disastrous environmental changes caused mainly by the most rich. In its 2022 annual survey, the World Resources Institute found that Malaysia was one of the few places where deforestation did not worsen. And perhaps there is a space to protect both climate and economic needs, preserving the fruitful relations between the countries of South-East Asia and the European Union.

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