Indonesia was set to highlight environmental issues and the significance of palm oil for the country’s development during the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation meeting in Beijing on April 26-27.
The Southeast Asian country is looking for alternative markets for its palm oil, as Europe, a key market, plans to drastically cut its consumption of palm-oil based biofuel over the next decade.
The leaders of nearly 40 countries, in addition to United Nations Secretary General António Guterres and International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, were scheduled to attend the roundtable meeting.
Matter set to for discussion in a series of formal and bilateral meetings included strengthening development policy strategies, boosting infrastructure connectivity, promoting sustainable development, strengthening cooperation and advancing people-to-people exchange.
Palm oil plays a key role in Indonesia’s efforts to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
“The issues that will be highlighted are the importance of synergy in the Belt and Road Initiative context, especially relating to national development strategies. We want to ensure that the cooperation is nationally driven,” Arrmanatha Nasir, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Thursday.
“We want to emphasize the importance of palm oil as an alternative commodity for Indonesia’s development, and also taking into account the prosperity of palm oil farmers and their families,” he added.
Data compiled by the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki) shows that Indonesia has about 16 million palm oil farmers, who directly depend on the commodity to sustain themselves and lift them out of poverty.
Indonesia, the world’s largest producer of the commodity, is currently working with Malaysia, the world’s second largest, to counter the European Union’s discriminatory policies against palm oil.
“We, along with Malaysia and other countries, will continue to push the EU to change this policy. The strategy is lobbying and negotiations, which we are currently doing. We will also continue to improve environmental standards for palm oil production,” Arrmanatha said.
Indonesia has also been cooperating with Beijing through the Belt and Road Initiative and is currently negotiating several projects that form part of this. Investments in coal-fired power plants are among the projects Indonesia is offering Beijing.
“The projects must have synergy with our national development. From the beginning, Indonesia has emphasized that projects would be private-sector driven, therefore the parties will pursue profit-oriented projects,” he said.
However, he added that these projects must also address environmental concerns, employ Indonesian workers and produce clean energy.
“We reflect on the problems in our development and that’s what we put forth in the projects. The private sector is important as a driver of the programs,” he said.
Also on Thursday, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi concluded several agreements with her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, to bolster efforts aimed at balancing the value of trade between the two countries.
“The minister encouraged increased market access for Indonesian products, especially commodities such as palm oil and fruit,” Arrmanatha said, adding that the agreements included exports of dragon fruit and mangosteen.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a transcontinental policy aimed at improving regional cooperation and connectivity by strengthening infrastructure, trade and investment links between itself and 65 other countries in Asia, Africa and Europe. It has been on the table since 2013.