Pandemic pummels Malaysia’s vital but controversial palm oil trade – dpa international


A handful of people outdoors in Kuala Lumpur during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

A handful of people outdoors in Kuala Lumpur during Malaysia’s lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Palm oil exports from Malaysia, the world’s second-biggest supplier, dropped by 41.7 per cent year-on-year during the month up to April 14, Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Khairuddin Aman Razali said on Thursday.

The month coincided with the imposition of a lockdown aimed at stemming the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed 102 people and resulted in 6,002 infections in the country.

Malaysia is expected to suffer a 2 per cent fall in GDP in 2020 due to the virus.

The lockdown, which has run since March 18, has forced many businesses to close, though the palm oil sector is operating.

A vital export commodity, palm oil and related products made up 3.9 per cent of Malaysia’s total goods sold overseas in 2019.

Palm oil is widely-used in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and in a variety of food products – but the sector has been criticized on environmental grounds due to swathes of forest being cleared to make way for plantations.

Malaysia and Indonesia – the world’s top producer – have been at loggerheads with the European Union over plans in Europe to lower palm oil use, which Brussels says is due to environmental concerns but which producer countries allege amounts to protectionism.

Demand for palm oil in China and India, the world’s biggest markets, have plummeted in recent months. Much of China, the source of the pandemic, went into lockdown in January but has seen much economic activity return in recent weeks; India has been on lockdown since March 24.

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