E.U. Moves to Block Deforestation-Derived Imports, Including Some Palm Oil

A new European Commission proposal aims to significantly slash imports of commodities associated with deforestation, especially in Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Palm plantation in Aceh Indonesia
Dec 22, 2021 10:35 AM EST
By Paolo DeAndreis
Palm plantation in Aceh Indonesia

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The European Union may soon halt the imports of goods linked to defor­esta­tion.

A new European Commission pro­posal tar­gets prod­ucts that have con­tributed to the alarm­ing phe­nom­e­non of global for­est loss, includ­ing soy, beef, palm oil, cocoa, cof­fee, leather and fur­ni­ture.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 420 mil­lion hectares of for­est glob­ally were lost to defor­esta­tion between 1990 and 2020, an area approx­i­mately the size of the European Union.

See Also: Climate Coverage

The FAO added that in that same period, the dif­fer­ence between the area of for­est cleared and newly planted or regen­er­ated is about 178 mil­lion hectares, an area about three times larger than France.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), almost 11 per­cent of all green­house gas emis­sions are linked to defor­esta­tion.

The com­mis­sion said the pro­posal builds on the pre­vi­ous E.U. ini­tia­tives aimed at for­est pro­tec­tion and the E.U.-wide con­sul­ta­tion of European cit­i­zens, who largely approve of mea­sures to cur­tail for­est degra­da­tion.

Additionally, the European Commission is con­fi­dent that the new rules will set an exam­ple for the world to fol­low.

Indeed, with the pro­posal for this reg­u­la­tion, the E.U. is assum­ing respon­si­bil­ity for the alarm­ing loss of forests world­wide and lead­ing the way in address­ing the prob­lem,” sources from the European Commission’s envi­ron­ment, mar­itime affairs and fish­eries depart­ment told Olive Oil Times.

The ini­tia­tive is ground­break­ing, show­ing that the E.U. wants to lead by exam­ple,” the com­mis­sion said. It takes a deci­sive step for­ward by mov­ing beyond ille­gal defor­esta­tion to address any defor­esta­tion dri­ven by agri­cul­tural expan­sion to pro­duce com­modi­ties.”

We also want to inspire oth­ers to act,” the sources added. We would like to see com­mit­ments from major mar­kets, like the United States and China, to clean up their sup­ply chains, and we’re will­ing to sup­port pro­duc­ing coun­tries in their tran­si­tion to sus­tain­abil­ity.”

The list of the com­modi­ties reg­u­lated by the new pro­posal will be under con­stant review from the com­mis­sion. To con­tinue export­ing their prod­ucts to the E.U., trade oper­a­tors and pro­duc­ers will have to exe­cute due dili­gence to offer cer­tain­ties about the ori­gin of the prod­ucts.

With the new rules, com­pa­nies will have to vol­un­tar­ily cer­tify and offer com­plete access to infor­ma­tion such as the type of com­mod­ity, the pro­duc­tion vol­umes, the involved sup­pli­ers and the coun­try of pro­duc­tion.

Exporters will have to spec­ify the exact geo­graphic coor­di­nates of the pro­duc­tion and cer­tify that their prod­uct chain abides with local laws.

As defor­esta­tion is linked to land-use change, mon­i­tor­ing defor­esta­tion requires a pre­cise link between the com­mod­ity or prod­uct placed on the E.U. mar­ket and the plot of land where it was grown,” the com­mis­sion wrote.

Using geolo­ca­tion coor­di­nates is the sim­plest and most cost-effec­tive way of obtain­ing the nec­es­sary geo­graphic infor­ma­tion for author­i­ties to be in a posi­tion to check whether prod­ucts and com­modi­ties are defor­esta­tion-free,” the com­mis­sion added. Combining geolo­ca­tion with remote mon­i­tor­ing via satel­lite images is expected to boost the effec­tive­ness of the reg­u­la­tion.”

A bench­mark­ing sys­tem will allow Brussels to iden­tify coun­tries that present higher risks of defor­esta­tion-derived exports so bureau­cracy and due dili­gence oper­a­tions can be sped up for low-risk coun­tries.


The com­mis­sion esti­mates that enforc­ing the new reg­u­la­tion would reduce car­bon emis­sions related to E.U. con­sump­tion by almost 32 mil­lion met­ric tons.

Based on the new approach to defor­esta­tion from the E.U., chang­ing con­sumer pri­or­i­ties and new research, sev­eral large European food retail­ers, includ­ing Carrefour, Auchan and Lidl, have pledged to halt imports of Brazilian beef that are sus­pected of com­ing from cat­tle raised in the Amazon or the Pantanal.

The com­mis­sion sources down­played the risk that the new reg­u­la­tion might affect the avail­abil­ity or price of beef or other impacted prod­ucts for con­sumers.

The impact assess­ment analy­sis con­cluded that the impact on prices would be extremely lim­ited. We have, how­ever, included a review clause in the pro­posal to assess the pos­si­ble impacts after its entry into appli­ca­tion,” they said.

The com­mis­sion also noted how the new rules allow involved par­ties to get on track with the new require­ments over long adap­ta­tion peri­ods,” which will be reserved for the small­est play­ers in the mar­ket.

See Also: World Leaders Pledge Billions to Restore Earth’s Forests

Palm oil pro­duc­ers also are affected by the new rules as palm oil exports to the European Union have sky­rock­eted in the last decades. The E.U. has already decided to phase out palm oil used for energy gen­er­a­tion by 2030.

According to OilWorld data, 65 per­cent of all E.U.-imported palm oil in 2018 was used for biodiesel pro­duc­tion, with minor per­cent­ages ded­i­cated to heat­ing. In human and ani­mal food pro­duc­tion, palm oil use also fell to 11 per­cent.

Palm oil has been and con­tin­ues to be a major dri­ver of defor­esta­tion of some of the world’s most bio­di­verse forests, destroy­ing the habi­tat of already endan­gered species,” the World Wildlife Fund said.

From an envi­ron­men­tal point of view, it is unde­ni­able that the expan­sion of the palm plan­ta­tions has been to the detri­ment of rain­forests and peat bogs in the pasts,” added Giuseppe Allocca, pres­i­dent of the Italian Union for Sustainable Palm Oil.


He said this resulted in the loss of nat­ural habi­tats and for­est car­bon stocks, gen­er­ated green­house gas emis­sions, cre­ated threats to bio­di­ver­sity and con­flicts with local com­mu­ni­ties.

But it is equally true that many plan­ta­tions arose on soils already degraded or pre­vi­ously des­tined for the cul­ti­va­tion of other com­modi­ties, such as rub­ber or cof­fee,” Allocca told Olive Oil Times. In the last few years, the palm oil pro­duc­tion chain has worked hard toward sus­tain­abil­ity.”

In the last 40 years, world­wide palm oil pro­duc­tion has grown from five to 70 mil­lion tons. It is the most widely-used plant oil in the world,” Allocca said.

The palm tree can pro­duce fruits through­out the year, and newly-planted trees enter total pro­duc­tion within three or four years.

Along with grow­ing demand, the speed with which they pro­duce the fruit has led Indonesia and Malaysia – the largest palm oil pro­duc­ers in the world – to invest in new plan­ta­tions.

It rep­re­sents 35 per­cent of all plant oil pro­duc­tion, fol­lowed by soy oil (28 per­cent), rape­seed oil (12 per­cent), sun­flower oil (9 per­cent),” Allocca said. Still, palm oil plan­ta­tions cover less than 10 per­cent of the whole sur­face glob­ally ded­i­cated to oil pro­duc­tion.”

On December 21, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an orga­ni­za­tion of palm oil stake­hold­ers, cer­ti­fied four mil­lion hectares of palm plan­ta­tions as sus­tain­able, account­ing for 17.6 mil­lion tons of palm oil or 19 per­cent of global pro­duc­tion.

Allocca added that the RSPO cer­ti­fied 90 per­cent of palm oil exported to Europe in 2020 as sus­tain­able.

There will be no ban on any coun­try or any com­mod­ity. Sustainable pro­duc­ers will con­tinue to be able to sell their goods to the E.U.,” the European Commission said. Attention will also be paid to increase the trans­parency of sup­ply chains while tak­ing into account the rights of for­est-depen­dent com­mu­ni­ties and indige­nous peo­ples as well as small­hold­ers’ needs.”

In addi­tion, the com­mis­sion will engage in bilat­eral and mul­ti­lat­eral dis­cus­sion on poli­cies and actions to halt defor­esta­tion and for­est degra­da­tion,” the com­mis­sion con­cluded.

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