Having set aside differences, Indonesia, Malaysia and the EU are defining topics to advance implementation of the EU Regulation on deforestation-free products.
Indonesia, Malaysia and the EU seem to have finally found common ground to discuss how to end deforestation linked to supply chains of agricultural commodities. With this, important groundwork has been laid that will benefit implementation of the EU Regulation on deforestation-free products (EUDR) and support the partnerships that are at the heart of tackling deforestation effectively. The principal flaw that remains is the continued exclusion of civil society, and especially smallholder groups and NGOs, from the Task Force.
A great deal of talk and good will went into crafting a positive approach and resolving earlier differences (FW 288). Following the Joint Mission carried out by Indonesian and Malaysian delegates in Brussels in May 2023, and the follow-up visit of the EU to Indonesia and Malaysia in June, the three delegations, via a joint press statement, agreed to establish an Ad Hoc Joint Task Force, which met for the first time in August in Kuala Lumpur. It will meet again in December.
At their first meeting, the Task Force identified five workstreams for discussion:
- Inclusion of smallholders: Discussion here will help the parties to better understand how the EUDR’s definition translates to Indonesia/Malaysia’s national contexts, and the challenges confronting smallholders as they try to comply with the EUDR, particularly around establishing traceability to the plot. Importantly, the Commission has budgeted funds to support smallholders. Although this is good news, it will not be enough: in Indonesia alone, for instance, smallholders currently supply 38 per cent of palm oil production, and cover nearly half (45 per cent) of the country’s area of oil palm cultivation. Smallholder organisations must be part of these discussions, as they are best placed to explain the needs and constraints of farmers who are the first victims of land disputes. On October the 7thin Central Kalimantan in Indonesia, there has been another deadly clash between police and Indigenous community members over the occupation of traditional lands by a palm oil company. Communities want their lands returned to their use as oil palm smallholdings.
- Mandatory certification schemes such as the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) certification scheme and the Malaysian Certification scheme (MSPO): Malaysia and Indonesia are adamant about the need to obtain EU recognition of their mandatory certification schemes, but the EUDR makes it clear that certification or other third party-verified schemes can be used only as a source of information in the risk assessment procedure; they cannot be used as a substitute (FW 283). The EU could provide support to improve these schemes in order to strengthen national legislations but here again, for the process and outcome to be legitimate, civil society (forest NGOs, smallholder groups) must have a seat at the table.
Other workstreams are traceability, data on deforestation and degradation and data protection.
A considerable oversight remains to be corrected: So far, civil society has no role in this Task Force. That this has not yet been remedied raises questions about the legitimacy of the entire process, given that millions of people (such as smallholders and local communities) will be affected by EUDR implementation and by how the Indonesian and Malaysian governments engage with it.
Indonesian NGOs raised the matter with their government last August but received no reply. They have just sent another letter, and will organise a press conference on 12th October. Civil society participation in these discussions is crucial to breathing life into these partnerships, and to providing real-life insights into EUDR implementation, not just as it affects large companies, but everyone. Their contribution would help depoliticise discussions and recentre debates on the peoples and forests who must benefit from this process.