KUCHING: The state government will not be intimidated by what it believes to be a smear campaign after a Singapore-based refinery said that it would no longer buy palm oil harvested from trees planted on forested areas and peat soil after next year.
Such a campaign, said Land Development Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing, would pose a serious threat to both the state’s economy and a huge percentage of its rural population dependent on the industry.
Sarawak, he vowed, “would not bow” and instead fight any attempt to jeopardise its palm oil industry, adding that it would look to new markets such as China and India for its export.
“If we don’t fight, they will keep bullying us and our people, especially those in the rural areas, will be seriously affected. We have to cut trees and continue planting oil palm in order to improve our economy and people,” he said.
Masing also expressed his doubts on the rationale behind the move by the multinational refinery, Wilmar International Limited, to stop buying crude palm oil (CPO) harvested from oil palms planted on forested areas and peat soil in Sarawak after 2015.
Wilmar, which has been operating a refinery in Bintulu for over 10 years, is the biggest single buyer of Sarawak CPO, accounting for about 45% or 1.4mil tonne from 41 mills throughout the state. Another 55% are bought by other refineries.
Masing said he had received a letter dated Dec 5 on the matter from Wilmar International.
“The company attributed its decision to environmental reasons but I believe it’s more economic,” he told reporters here yesterday.
Masing, who did not mince his words, said “I don’t like the agenda behind it”, adding that he “believed that the company was being influenced by countries producing sunflower and soya-based oil through foreign NGOs.”
“We cannot negotiate our lifestyle just to suit their economics needs. The sale of our palm oil has been 10 times better than that of sunflower or soya-based oil and could be the reason for the smear campaign to resurface.
“There used to be similar smear campaigns alleging that palm oil was not healthy but this soon quietened down after the claim was found to be untruthful,” he said.
Masing said some 300,000 smallholders would have their livelihoood affected should the government were to simply go along with what was required by the company.
According to a statement, the oil palm industry contributed RM11.2bil to the state coffers between 2010 and 2012. The state also collected RM2.16bil in sales tax between 2002 and June 2013.
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