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Timmermans in Jakarta: Open Trade or Empty Promises?

This week marks an important turning point in the Indonesia-EU relation, with the visit of EU Vice-President, Mr. Timmermans, who is in charge of the EU Green Deal.
 
The VP is scheduled to meet with President Joko Widodo and key Indonesian Ministries (Energy, Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Foreign Affairs), as well as the Secretary General of ASEAN, to make amends following HR/VP Borrell’s visit which had concluded on kind words but no concrete actions.
 
The meetings are principally about the upcoming UN climate meeting in the UK and Indonesia’s emissions reductions commitments on fossil fuels.The question is whether the meetings will give any indications on the EU’s intentions on trade and palm oil – particularly whether the EU will recognize Indonesia’s Sustainable Palm Oil certification in a trade agreement or in its proposed measures on deforestation.
 
Although EU officials have reaffirmed Indonesia’s importance for EU trade in the region, and the role of palm oil in addressing poverty, Brussels has not eased Indonesia’s concerns.
 
With each high level EU visit to Indonesia, the warm words cover up the lack of action and commitment from the EU towards Indonesia. Timmermans’ visit is unlikely to change this.
 
The EU has a history of measures setting up trade barriers against Indonesian palm oil and other exports, whether it is the palm renewables ban, illegal antidumping tariffs on biodiesel, or inaction on palm oil labelling.
 
And now the EU is gearing up to release its EU Due Diligence / Forests Regulation that will potentially label Indonesia and palm oil as high risk.
 
Instead, the EU should back its promises with positive actions, just as the UK is doing.
 
Back in April 2021, the former UK Foreign Secretary Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP signaled the new cooperative approach when he stated that the UK would support a pathway for ISPO to be recognised as a guarantee of legality under the UK’s Due Diligence legislation.
 
The former Foreign Secretary stated:
 
The due diligence requirements will allow for a pathway to recognise different national standards and certification schemes as evidence of that legal compliance.”
 
This is a positive step; a commitment to a legality based standard.
 
The UK has taken another positive step in that direction a couple of days ago with the House of Lords debate on the Environmental Bill/Due Diligence, with UK Minister Lord Goldsmith making a statement echoing Indonesia’s messaging on respect for laws and sovereignty:
 
Our legality-based approach allows us to lead the charge on tackling illegal deforestation, while working in partnership with producer countr,y Governments and communities and respecting their laws.”
 
Now the question is what will the EU do? Will it stand by its anti-palm oil measures or will it acknowledge the progress made by the palm oil industry and collaborate with Indonesia to create a future relationship that will rip benefits for all.

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