European Union Ambassador to Indonesia: We Must Be Fair to Trading Partners
TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - THE European Union Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) passed by the European Parliament on December 6 with the view to ensure that each commodity traded in the EU market is legal and is not associated with deforestation or deforestation-free is causing concerns among exporting countries. “But we believe most suppliers can meet these standards,” EU Ambassador to Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam, Vincent Piket, told Tempo on February 16. He also answered Tempo’s written queries last Tuesday, March 14.
Henriette Faergemann, First Counselor for Environment, Climate Change and Digital Cooperation who accompanied Piket added that albeit adopted, the regulation was still subject to fine-tuning in the few months. The law will come into effect in May or June with a transition period of 18 to 24 months.
Vincent said Indonesia already had a number of systems in place such as the Timber Legality and Verification System (SVLK), the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO), and the Jangka Benah strategy (a long-term forest rehabilitation strategy) to verify commodities’ legal sustainability requirement status. He added SVLK and ISPO certifications can verify the legality aspect of commodities but not the deforestation-free status. The commodities produced through the Jangka Benah system are most likely to be considered agroforestry products and the government must ensure their legality aspect. Excerpts of the interview:
What is the story behind the birth of the EUDR?
This is one among dozens of steps that are part of the EU Green Deal, our grand omnibus policy to make the EU zero carbon and achieve a circular economy by 2050. That’s 28 years from now. (There’s) little time to do it. The Green Deal policies cover everything from industry to agriculture, construction to digital, energy, biodiversity, and forests.
The analysis shows two things very clearly. First, the European Union is a big consumer of commodities in general and raw materials that are in one way or another related to nature, particularly forests. Secondly, we know that agriculture has caused a lot of deforestation historically. That’s not only bad for biodiversity but also causes carbon emissions. That’s what we are after to make sure that while we continue to consume and import commodities, including from countries like Indonesia, the commodities and products we purchase do not lead to deforestation. We also want to make sure that these commodities are legal.
Has the policy faced any resistance?
Our opinion polling shows very strongly that the large majority of European citizens (80 percent) wants this to happen. They support the objectives of the Green Deal. And of course, if the citizens or voters want it, the politicians want it too. So, there’s a high political and social consensus for moving down this road. Secondly, any change or transition takes effort and faces resistance because there are costs involved. So that’s what the stakeholders in Europe have been discussing all along.
It must be strongly stressed that this law applies to all products equally, be it from Europe or abroad. So, there’s no distinction, discrimination, or favoritism. Secondly, there are a number of products in the first list we will look at that include soy, beef, palm oil, timber, rubber, coffee, and cocoa.
Why were these products picked for scrutiny?
Based on studies. A simple mathematical analysis can show which and how much commodities we import, how much CO2 (carbon dioxide) they produce and how much deforestation they cause. There are possible deforestation risks such as forest clearing to produce these products. That’s why we look at them.
How will the impact on the EU economy be mitigated?
I don’t think we will face this issue because the criteria we use to implement this policy are international criteria. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) criteria are mentioned in the law and they have variation customization for X, Y, Z countries. So, what we’re doing should be compatible with the policies in countries such as Indonesia.
Secondly, we must be fair to our trading partners. We know that Europe cut forests and a lot of our forests have long gone. It’s historical and we don’t punish ourselves for that. Likewise, we should not punish our trading partners for that either, meaning we are only looking at the situation from December 31, 2020 onwards. It means we may regret whatever happened in the past but it is just a sentiment and it would not affect the implementation of this regulation.
Won’t it slow down the EU economy?
No. We are convinced that the large majority of suppliers can meet the standard. It will involve some paperwork, and due diligence work but that is something that can be done. We will have this phase in the transition periods of 18 months, with 24 months for small firms. So, there is time to work together. We are having quite an intensive dialogue with the government here, the industry, major timber, palm, and cocoa associations, and the council of palm oil-producing countries.
Was there consultation with the government?
Yes, there was. Our Executive Vice President (of EU) Frans Timbermans visited (Indonesia) and kicked off the discussion with the government and we’ve been following up ever since. Indonesian officials also have traveled to Brussels as well.
(President Joko Widodo received EU’s Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans at the Merdeka Palace in 2021.)
How will this policy affect international products?
The impact will be limited as most companies have already been implicitly or explicitly applying the same standards. So, we’re just consolidating what many companies are already doing. But there will be a negative impact on companies that don’t apply, that produce illegally, and that cut forests. They will suffer. But that’s exactly what we and the Indonesian government want. The government also wants to stop deforestation and produce legal products. So, this is the access offered by the EU to its market. To be honest, on the European market, legally produced and harvested Indonesian timber is sold side by side with timber coming from elsewhere, for instance, Russia, which was not sourced legally. That is unfair to Indonesia. But that will be over when the new law comes into force. In other words, in terms of timber, Indonesia in particular will have an advantage because we’ve had this long cooperation with its timber industry given the SVLK.
Is Indonesia’s palm certification already in accordance with the regulation?
Palm oil is your biggest and most important commodity. I believe a huge distinction should be made between large companies and smallholders. Large companies as a whole have received ISPO certification so they will be able to produce for the EU. I’m not saying that the ISPO is totally identical to the criteria we apply but that’s something we still need to discuss with the authorities and we are open to ideas. We will be presenting our criteria to the government with the hope that they will include many of these criteria, if not all, in the ISPO model. But it’s a different story for small companies with, say, a five-hectare capacity to invest in the certification. So, we still have issues as to how they can obtain sustainability and deforestation-free evidence. That is something we need to look at and work out.
One of the criticisms of civil society organizations against the EUDR is this issue of small-scale companies. Will they perhaps be given special treatment?
I understand that and but this is essentially the task of the Indonesian government and industry. It doesn’t mean we take no interest. We are a stakeholder and we are also supporting financially through the levies that we pay for palm oil export as well as palm oil export levies that go into the palm oil fund (for palm oil development programs).
This criticism is partly due to a bit of misunderstanding.
Read the Full Interview in Tempo English Magazine
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