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
By Paolo DeAndreis
Dec. 22, 2021 10:35 UTC
Palm plantation in Aceh Indonesia

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.

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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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