Najib hails Canberra move

This is written by my editor Datuk Nuraina Samad, who is reporting from Perth, Australia.

MALAYSIA has welcomed the decision by the Australian government not to support a legislative proposal for the compulsory labelling of Malaysian palm oil.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said yesterday this was a decision that “extremely pleases” Malaysia, in particular the palm oil industry. 

“I have expressed my thanks to Prime Minister Julia Gillard for this,” he told Malaysian journalists after delivering his keynote address, “Building Infrastructure for the 21st Century” at the Commonwealth Business Forum at the Burswood Entertainment Complex.

Najib, who is here for the four-day Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, had earlier in the morning held bilateral talks with Gillard.

It was reported that Gillard’s government would oppose the bill, which was deemed to be in violation of the country’s obligation to the World Trade Organisation. The bill, however, has the support of the Liberal-National party coalition.

The prime minister said the Free Trade Agreement talks with Australia were ongoing and expected to be concluded next March. “This is a big plus for us. That is why it is important to have cooperative arrangement because it spills over into other sectors as well and is positive in terms of assisting them in terms of goodwill between two gover nments.” The bill requires new labels on food products containing palm oil to identify the ingredients and carry a certification attesting to environmentally sustainable practices.

Malaysia has presented a strong case against the bill called the Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling - Palm Oil) Bill 2010, arguing that it is in violation of WTO provisions.

The Australian Senate passed the bill in June, but before the Lower House of the Australian Parliament’s debate, there will be a hearing at the committee level.

Malaysian Palm Oil Council chief executive officer Tan Sri Dr Yusof Basiron said such compulsory labelling of palm oil would affect the imports of food products and was a discriminatory use of the labelling law against the interests of palm oil.

Bilateral trade last year was valued at US$10.63 billion (RM32.31 billion), with exports valued at US$7.46 billion (RM22.67 billion), while imports from Australia were valued at US$3.17 billion (RM9.63 billion). Australia is Malaysia’s 11th largest trading partner. It is also Malaysia’s eighth largest export destination and 12th largest import source.

Najib, who was accompanied by his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, would join 52 world leaders at the opening of the biennial meeting by Queen Elizabeth II at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre.

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