Nash: French position unjust

KUALA LUMPUR: THE current French position on palm oil trade is neither free nor fair and, in fact, it is unjust, said National Association of Smallholders (Nash) president Datuk Aliasak Ambia. 

In a telephone interview with Business Times yesterday, he said Nash had appealed to French Minister of Foreign Trade Nicole Bricq to support open trade and positive trading relations between France and Malaysia.

“We wrote to the French minister. We asked for the French government’s commitment not to discriminate against palm oil and not to put up protectionist trade barriers that harm small oil palm farmers here,” Aliasak said.

Of late, big multi-nationals in the French food industry like Casino, Système U, Findus, Lesieur, Lays and Jacquet have been intensifying their campaign against palm oil.

“The French government needs to re-set relations between France and Malaysia. 

"We call upon the French government to publicly disassociate from the actions of these multi-nationals and condemn their aggression towards small oil palm farmers,” said.

Aliasak noted that the Tribunal de Commerce in Paris had, recently ruled that there was no justification for the anti-palm oil campaign and ordered Système U to remove misleading and inaccurate anti-palm oil advertising.

France and Malaysia have excellent trade co-operation and this includes imports of French beverages, food, airplanes and defence equipment. “Why should Malaysia sign a trade agreement with the European Union when French companies vehemently attack Malaysian products and undermine the opportunity for many families here to earn a decent living?” he asked.

The French anti-palm oil campaign is not based on facts and figures but rather on exaggeration and emotions, he said. 

The reality is that oil palm is the most efficient oil crop in the world yielding seven times more oil that France’s rapeseed agriculture. In terms of energy balance, it takes less sunlight to produce a unit of palm oil than any other vegetable oils. 

“These are known to scientists and academics who are worth their salt, including those in France from the Institut Pasteur and CIRAD. In fact, the first oil palm estate in Malaysia, named Tenamaram, was established in Selangor in 1917 by Frenchman Henri Fauconier,” Aliasak said. 

Nine months ago, Nash submitted a letter to the French ambassador to Malaysia, Martine Dorance, to express Malaysian smallholders’ disappointment over the behaviour of French retailers, in particular Casino and Système U, for producing television commercials that slander palm oil and, by association, the small farmers of whom Nash represents.

To make matters worse, French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg had even said in a statement that “all (French) left-wing parties should campaign against palm oil”.

Half truths on palm oil were and are still being repeated by other French political leaders. For example, senator Jean-Vincent Place had claimed in Parliamentary Question 02164 that palm oil contains trans fat.

This is simply untrue, said Aliasak, as palm oil is 100 per cent free of the artificial trans fat. In fact, palm oil is instrumental in removing artificial trans fat from the daily diet of common folks worldwide, he added.