Indonesia, the 2013 chair of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), which will hold its summit meeting in Bali in early October, has launched a concerted campaign to include palm oil and rubber on the APEC list of environmental goods (EG), thereby entitling these commodities to import tariffs of 5 percent maximum.
The government lobbied the APEC ministers of trade at their meeting in Surabaya in April, but still failed to lead the ministers into a consensus to include both commodities on the EG list due mainly to objections from influential economies within APEC, notably the US.
Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan visited Washington DC early last month to lobby the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to send a fact-finding mission to Indonesia to evaluate whether palm oil and rubber were qualified for classification as environmental goods.
The EPA did send a team, which concluded its evaluation last week. The team is expected to announce its verdict later this month. Particularly worrying, though, is the fact that the visit coincided with the massive forest fires in Sumatra, which have caused what has been claimed to be the worst haze ever in Riau province, Singapore and Malaysia.
Yet more damaging to the green campaign was the preliminary finding by the Environment Ministry that many of the fires that have blanketed parts of Singapore and Malaysia in thick, choking smoke over the past two weeks were caused by slash-and-burn farming techniques to clear land for oil palm plantations and other agricultural products.