President Jokowi and his ministers have pushed back on the EU Deforestation Regulation. Meanwhile, Indonesian media and business figures have shown their support for the government’s stance. The question remains: Will Brussels attempt to repair the relationship?

The inaugural ASEAN-EU Summit proved to be decisive moment for the Indonesian palm oil industry. President Jokowi took clear aim at the European Union’s approach to both palm oil and their attempts to dictate sustainability standards on Indonesia.

In a press conference following the Summit, President Jokowi stated:

“Partnerships must be based on equality. There must be no coercion. There can no longer be one side that always dictates to the other and assumes that ‘my standard is better than yours.’”

At the same time, Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi pointed out on behalf of the President:

“The President expressed concern on European Union policies that are discriminatory in nature and hamper Indonesia’s commodity exports. The new policy that is in the headlights of the President is the Deforestation Regulation.”

Indonesian media commentators have jumped on the comments across the board. With regards to the comments and the Deforestation Regulation, Kontan, Indonesia’s most widely read news source, wrote:

“The European Union is taking issue with crude palm oil products and their derivatives by pointing the finger at being environmentally unfriendly … behind the allegations, the European Union actually has an interest in maintaining the competitiveness of their edible oils … which are clearly unable to compete with palm oil.

Another policy implemented by the European Union to inhibit the entry of products from developing countries, especially Southeast Asia, is to apply standards that seem as if products from the Southeast Asian region are worse than products from the European Union.”

The notion that the EU is motivated by protectionism rather than concern for the environment is becoming more widespread. The Jakarta Post’s Kornelius Purba also wrote:

“I do not believe forest protection is all that is in the EU’s mind … it is too naïve to believe business interests do not play a key role.”

This was echoed in Jawa Pos, one of Jakarta’s largest metro dailies:

“Indonesia will not be subdued by countries such as the EU. Because mines, palm oil, etc. are ours as sovereign states. Of course, there should be no other country that regulates Indonesia with rules that only benefit the importer country of raw materials.”

The comments have also inspired a broader push-back on the EU by other Indonesian commentators:

“Indonesia’s attitude of wanting to stand on its own feet actually makes many Western countries inflamed. Issues related to the destruction of nature and oil palm have been raised. The pressure has not made the government back down… Coinciding with the ASEAN and EU summits, this week Jokowi gave a direct message that Indonesia rejects any European arrogance.”

The comments were also supported by major Indonesian business groups, with one business leader comparing the EU’s recent actions to Dutch colonization.

Very little of this has been reported by Western media, who instead highlighted a EUR2.5 billion ‘investment’ in Indonesia over the next five years. It’s worth comparing this to the USD3.6 billion investment by China in Indonesia in just the first six months of 2022.

This summit underlines the current disconnect between the EU, Western media and Indonesia and its palm oil sector.

In light of all of the comments coming from Indonesia, a critical question remains unanswered: Will the key figures in Brussels start to repair the relationship or continue down the same path and risk its future entirely?