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Forget the West, look to China, India, Africa, say palm oil industry players

Imran Ariff  FREE MALAYSIA TODAY Wed, January 6, 2021

Malaysia’s palm oil sector should look into producing high value products and explore the renewable fuels market, says IOI CEO Lee Yeow Chor.

PETALING JAYA: Palm oil experts say putting greater emphasis on biodiesel and expanding into markets such as India, China and Africa can be key drivers of growth for the sector.

Speaking at a digital forum on the industry, Lee Yeow Chor, the CEO of IOI Corporation Berhad, said Malaysia’s palm oil sector should look into producing high-value products and explore the renewable fuels market.

However, he said, as transporting large volumes to the US and Europe could be difficult and expensive and given the anti-palm oil sentiment in the West, Malaysia should look towards Asian economies.

“In Asia, some big economies like China, Japan and Korea have set carbon neutral targets for 2050, and renewable fuel will be an important component for them to achieve these,” he said. Meanwhile, LMC International chairman James Fry cited leading biodiesel consumers Germany and the state of California (US) as case studies, saying that the demand for biodiesel had seen a steady increase, and had remained resilient even during the pandemic.

This suggested that governments around the world maintained strong support for biodiesel, he said.

Atul Chaturvedi, president of the Solvent Extractors’ Association of India, said Malaysia had looked towards gaining a foothold in the West for too long when “half the world is next door in Asia, in places like India and China.”

According to a Reuters report last year, India is the world’s largest importer of palm oil, purchasing more than nine million tonnes annually, largely from Malaysia and Indonesia.

He said Malaysia and India could be “comrades in arms” if a concerted effort was made to “look to the east” – towards the rest of Asia and educating consumers about the sustainability of palm oil and dispelling health concerns in order to tap into a market largely free of anti-palm oil lobbying.

In a similar vein, Bidco Group chairman Vimal Shah said Malaysia would benefit from looking towards Africa and expanding the value chain into a continent rich in arable land and with a rapidly growing population.

“From a long-term view, Africa’s population is going to grow by around half a billion in the next 10 years. We have so much land available, we have the same sort of climate, there’s high labour availability. I think it’s important for Malaysian palm oil companies to look at it.

“There’s 600 million hectares of unused, uncultivated land in Africa. In Malaysia, there’s a maximum of 6.5 million hectares for palm oil cultivation (due to sustainability caps), so there’s only one million hectares left to grow.

“I think the prospect is to be able to produce in Africa. We could feed the world.”

The forum was part of the Palm Oil Trade Fair and Seminar 2021 organised by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC).


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