Posts Tagged ‘palm oil’

Four Indonesian provinces, including Riau, declare disaster alerts for forest fires

February 21, 2018

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Smoke rises from a peatland fire in Pekanbaru, Riau on Feb 1, 2018. It is one of 73 detected hot spots causing haze on the island of Sumatra. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA – Four Indonesian provinces – including one that sits at Singapore’s doorstep – are officially on disaster alert after a rising number of hot spots were detected within their boundaries.

Riau, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan provinces have declared disaster alert status, said Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman for the country’s disaster management agency (BNPB), in a press statement on Wednesday (Feb 21). All four provinces are located around the equator, with Riau being closest to Singapore.

The disaster alert status means that the national government in Jakarta will be able to step in more easily and with less red tape to deal with raging fires, deploy troops and provide logistics and funds, Dr Sutopo said.

“The number of hot spots has continued to increase. In the past week, the most number of hot spots was found in West Kalimantan province. Pontianak is blanketed by haze,” Dr Sutopo said.

In the past 24 hours through 7am on Wednesday, there was a total of 78 hot spots across Indonesia, according to the Terra and Aqua satellites, based on a confidence level of between 30 per cent and 79 per cent.

West Kalimantan province recorded the highest number at 23 hot spots, followed by West Java at 14, Central Kalimantan with 12, Riau at nine, Riau Islands and Papua each with four, Central Java three, West Papua, East Java and Maluku each with two, and Banka-Belitung Islands, North Maluku and South Sumatra each with one.

 Image result for Riau, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan , Central Kalimantan, indonesia, map

Indonesian provinces located near the equator are now in their first phase of the dry season, which usually runs from early in the year to some time in March. The rainy season then sets in at these provinces in March and lasts till May before another, more intense dry season from June to September.

“Forest and plantation fires usually pick up in the second (June-September) dry season there,” Dr Sutopo said.

The authorities are stepping up their efforts to manage forest and plantation fires. There will be more land and air operations, regular patrols and tighter law enforcement, Dr Sutopo said. Public campaigns against slash-and-burn tactics and on public health are also being ramped up, he added.

Indonesia is deploying joint forces from BNPB’s provincial branches, the armed forces, forestry agency fire fighters, city fire fighters, and civil security officers, among others, Dr Sutopo added.

BNPB has also kept aircraft ready for cloud seeding and helicopters for water bombing.


Fires raged on peatlands on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, Indonesia, on Nov 1.
Fires raged on peatlands on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, Indonesia, on Nov 1, 2015. Photo: Getty Images


Singapore Central Business District, or CBD skyline is covered with a thick haze.


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An Indonesian woman and a child walk on a bamboo bridge as thick yellow haze shrouds Palangkaraya on Oct 22, 2015. AFP photo



EU decision to curb palm oil imports could impact Malasian elections — Is the future of palm oil cooked?

February 16, 2018


KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – An EU decision to curb palm oil imports was the last thing Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak needed ahead of a coming election, with rural voters already aggrieved over financial scandals at state-owned palm oil agency Felda.

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Palm harvest in Malaysia

Around 10 percent of Malaysia’s 30 million people belong to families who own smallholdings dedicated to harvesting palm oil, and they account for the majority of voters in nearly a quarter of the national assembly’s 222 seats.

Girding for a general election due by August, Najib was given a taste of the discontent rife in the countryside when hundreds of farmers flocked to Kuala Lumpur last month to protest a pending EU move to phase out the use of palm oil in biofuel.

“I will not support the government if they don’t resolve this issue,” said Abdul Rahman, a farmer who runs a smallholding in Negeri Sembilan, a state an hour’s drive south of the capital.

“The failure and inexperience of the government led to the EU’s boycott of our palm oil,” hen told Reuters.

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Malaysian President Najib Razak with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

Najib can ill-afford to lose votes from Malays in rural areas that have hitherto been a rock-solid votebank for the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the party that has led every multi-ethnic coalition since Malaysia emerged from British colonial rule in 1957.

Aged 92, and having stood down in 2003 as Malaysia’s longest serving premier, Mahathir Mohamad has come out of retirement to lead the campaign against his one-time protege Najib, having forged an unlikely alliance with jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Malays’ loyalty to UMNO has been tested by the steady flow of stories over the past three years about 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), a state investment firm whose funds, critics say, were used by Najib to boost his campaign for the 2013 election, which he narrowly won while losing the popular vote to an opposition bloc led by Anwar.

Najib, who chaired 1MDB’s advisory board until it was dissolved in 2016, has consistently denied any wrongdoing over the billions of dollars lost by the fund, but an ongoing kleptocracy investigation into 1MDB in the United States – the biggest mounted by Department of Justice – has kept on the frontburner.

To cement authority and protect himself, analysts say Najib needs to lead UMNO to a convincing victory.


The 1MDB controversy has damaged Najib’s standing more among urban Malays, but over the past year rural Malays have found their own reasons to be upset.

Malaysia’s 650,000 smallholders, who cultivate 40 percent of acreage dedicated to palm, fear they will bear the brunt of the EU ban, which William Simadiputra, an analyst at DBS Vickers, reckons could cost Malaysia about $500 million annually in export revenue.

Malaysia’s plantations minister Mah Siew Keong told Reuters the government is working on expanding export markets to other non-traditonal palm buyers like Iran, Vietnam and Japan in a bid to shore up demand.

But the government’s threat of retaliatory trade measures against the EU has been scorned by critics, who say it will lead to further loss of palm oil business to competitors.

“By saying you will ban EU imports you are just pushing away the palm oil business to Indonesia,” said Wong Chen, a lawmaker with the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) party.

Image result for photo, Felda signage at the Felda headquarters outside Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur

FILE PHOTO: A Felda signage at the Felda headquarters outside Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Emily Chow/File Photo

Malaysia hasn’t given up trying to persuade the EU to think again, raising its objections with a visiting French defense minister last month. France is hoping to sell Malaysia fighter jets worth about $2 billion.


Smallholders have seen monthly incomes drop as low as 1,000-2,000 ringgit ($256.81-$513.61) when palm prices were low, forcing many into debt over the years.

And when allegations of corruption surfaced last year at the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda), a state plantation agency founded to alleviate rural poverty, the government came under fire in the small towns and villages that make up the Malay heartland.

Many of Felda’s 112,000 settlers took loans to invest in Felda Global Ventures, a listed unit of Felda that raised $3 bln when it was launched in 2012 and has since seen its share price plunge by 60 percent.

FGV’s chairman was forced to quit last year, and its chief executive was suspended for four months during a government probe into suspicious transactions at a subsidiary. He later resumed his role.

Najib moved to appease Felda settlers last July with cash handouts, subsidies and debt waivers totaling nearly 1.5 billion ringgit ($383 million).

“The game is to constantly to keep the palm planters happy,” said PKR’s Wong Chen.

But they are far from happy. The controversies at FGV have barely abated. Critics say it overpaid buying assets, notably the $505 million purchase of a 37 percent stake in an Indonesian palm oil firm.

Questions have also been raised last month over a Felda land deal in Kuala Lumpur, which allegedly points to criminal fraud.

Felda did not reply to a request for comment.

But, on this most recent land deal scandal, Najib said in a blog post that the government would “ensure the interests of Felda and the settlers are not compromised”.

However, this core constituency’s patience with the government may have run out.

“These issues have raised anger among the settlers,” said Mazlan Aliman, president of the National Felda Settlers’ Children Society (ANAK). “They see the government is not serious in addressing these issues, but instead try to cover up.”

“The damage that has been done is too big. It will influence the mood of voters in the upcoming elections, especially in Felda areas,” said Mazlan.

($1 = 3.8940 ringgit)

Additional reporting by Liz Lee; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

Indonesia eyes lax palm oil rules in EU trade deal — Wants to continue to harm the environment by crop burning — Jakarta’s goal leaked out in papers marked “not for publication”

February 16, 2018



© AFP/File / by Harry PEARL | Palm oil producers in Indonesia stand accused of burning areas of rainforest to make way for plantations, in fires that often spread and devastate the local environment

JAKARTA (AFP) – Palm oil giant Indonesia is pressing the European Union to abandon plans to apply strict environmental standards to the sector and silence “negative” criticism about the commodity, documents obtained by AFP have revealed.The papers, marked “not for publication” and for distribution only on a “need to know” basis, reflect Jakarta’s wish list for a critical industry as the two sides hammer out new rules for a trading relationship worth $35 billion a year.

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil — used in everything from food to cosmetics — and vast swathes of rainforest have been destroyed to make way for plantations that are the backbone of Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

This annual slash-and-burn clearing threatens endangered species and fuels annual forest fires that plague the region.

Indonesia and the EU kick off a fourth and possibly final round of negotiations — covering a wide range of trade, investment and intellectual property rules — from Monday in the archipelago nation.

The documents outline a call for the EU to apply Jakarta’s own government sustainability standard — despite serious concerns about its credibility — rather than a tougher European certification scheme that was proposed in April last year.

Only a minority of Indonesian palm oil plantations currently even meet Jakarta’s relatively lax standards.

Separately, Indonesia and neighbouring Malaysia — another major palm oil producer — have slammed the European Parliament’s move to ban the use of the commodity in biofuels from 2021.

They say that the ban would devastate rural communities where many small-scale farmers survive by cultivating the crop.

Indonesia’s trade ministry declined to comment on the leaked text, which is dated June 2017.

The last round of talks were in September last year, and it is not clear if the documents reflect Jakarta’s latest position in negotiations, which began in mid-2016.

European Commission officials said they would not comment on an alleged leak. However, they said any final deal would not come at the expense of acceptable environmental or labour standards.

One passage calls for the EU to legislate against “negative” messaging and campaigns with “misleading nutrition, health and/or environmental claims”, in an apparent bid to head off criticism about palm oil’s impact.

The industry frequently accuses rival foreign vegetable oil firms of working with NGOs to launch “black campaigns” against the sector.

However, there is “no question of limiting the possibilities of any entity in the EU to inform consumers about products available in the market”, a Commission spokesman told AFP.

Jakarta also wants the EU to agree that one party must compensate the other for any economic losses “due to the pursuit of sustainability”.

Environmentalists said Jakarta’s call to apply its own sustainability programme demonstrates Indonesia isn’t serious enough about addressing the ecological impact of its palm oil sector.

“The (government standard) is not sufficient enough to ensure sustainability as it allows conversion of natural forest” to plantations, environmental group WWF’s Indonesia office said in a statement after reviewing documents supplied by AFP.

“So, in our mind, (it) does not fulfil (the) EU market requirement of sustainability compliance.”

by Harry PEARL


Fires raged on peatlands on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, Indonesia, on Nov 1.
Fires raged on peatlands on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, Indonesia, on Nov 1, 2015. Photo: Getty Images


Singapore Central Business District, or CBD skyline is covered with a thick haze.


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An Indonesian woman and a child walk on a bamboo bridge as thick yellow haze shrouds Palangkaraya on Oct 22, 2015. AFP photo



Greenpeace slams Indonesia palm oil industry on deforestation

November 27, 2017


© AFP | Vast swathes of rainforest are destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations, threatening endangered species and pushing indigenous people off their lands

JAKARTA (AFP) – Greenpeace slammed Indonesia’s palm oil industry Monday for failing to live up to a pledge to halt deforestation, as the lucrative sector faces possible restrictions in Europe over environmental concerns.Palm oil is used in everything from soap to frozen pizza, but a consumer backlash has forced dozens of the world’s largest food and drink manufacturers to address the issue.

Vast swathes of rainforest are destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations, threatening endangered species and pushing indigenous people off their lands.

International corporations, including Unilever, Kellogg and Mondelez, have pledged to adopt environmentally friendly supply chains by 2020.

But Greenpeace said in a report published on Monday that large palm oil traders are failing on that commitment.

The environmental group found that most of the 11 major traders operating in Indonesia did not have strict systems to monitor the origin of their goods and were not calling out non-compliant producers.

“Broadly, the palm oil industry has agreed to end deforestation. The issue — and it is a critical one — is only two of the 11 (traders) we looked at was actually able to say when they are going to end deforestation,” Richard George, a UK-based forest campaigner at Greenpeace, told AFP.

None of the firms contacted by AFP replied to requests for comment on the report.

The Greenpeace report comes against the backdrop of mounting concerns about palm oil’s environmental impact.

The European Union, the world’s second largest consumer after India, passed a resolution in April calling for tougher environmental standards for palm oil linked to deforestation.

Indonesia and Malaysia — the world?s two largest producers — have been lobbying against the resolution.

Both countries have slammed possible EU import restrictions as unfair, and a move that would harm millions of mostly small-scale farmers.


Southeast Asian economies get a lift from China. Later, they may get the bill

September 8, 2017

By Marius Zaharia

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Southeast Asia appears to be on a roll.

The Philippines is boasting the second-fastest growing economy in Asia, Malaysia has posted its best growth figures in more than two years and Thailand in more than four.

The growth is being fuelled by China, whose expanding economic presence is propping up fundamental weaknesses around Southeast Asia. It also underlines China’s dominance in a region that will be under increasing pressure to follow Beijing’s lead.

Even as the rest of the world feels the pinch of Beijing’s clampdown on outbound capital, China is ploughing money into Southeast Asia – much of it into infrastructure projects related to President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road initiative.

Chinese tourists are also flocking to beaches, temples and shopping malls around the region. And trade is surging.

Exports to China from Indonesia and Malaysia grew more than 40 percent in the first half of the year; from Thailand and Singapore it was almost 30 percent, and more than 20 percent from the Philippines, according to Reuters calculations.

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Malaysia — China’s Forest City development is the biggest by a Chinese property developer

China has been investing heavily in infrastructure and property in the region and buying commodities such as rice, palm oil, rubber and coal. It is also buying electronic components and equipment from countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.

Going the other way is everything from cheap T-shirts to high-end telecommunications systems.

Welcome as all this economic activity is to the region, it could also present political problems, as countries confront China over issues such as its claims in the South China Sea, as both Vietnam and the Philippines have found.

And it raises the risk that China could apply economic pressure to get its way.

“The large rise in ASEAN’s exports to China have increased potential vulnerabilities to geopolitical risks,” said Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific chief economist for IHS Markit.


For a glimpse of how that feels, Southeast Asian countries could look at South Korea’s experience.

The deployment in South Korea of a U.S. anti-missile defence system that China opposed resulted in a sharp decline in Chinese tourists. South Korean companies doing business in China, like Lotte Group and Hyundai have also been hit in the diplomatic fallout.

“The South Korea example is a highlight of how the geopolitical vulnerability to China can increase as the bilateral economic relationship expands,” Biswas said.

The Philippines found itself subject to a Chinese ban on its fruit in 2012 after challenging China’s maritime claims. The ban was only lifted last year as President Rodrigo Duterte adopted a friendlier stance towards Beijing.

“Any sector that you have with a big exposure – tourism inbound like Thailand, bananas outbound like the Philippines, coal from Indonesia – is vulnerable,” said Dane Chamorro, senior partner and head of South East Asia at Control Risks, a global risk consultancy. “You can imagine how that would be pretty easy for China to stop or hinder.”

Leaders of Malaysia’s ruling party last year voiced concerns after Prime Minister Najib Razak secured deals worth $34 billion on a trip to Beijing, saying it opened the door for a more direct Chinese influence on Malaysia’s affairs, besides saddling the country with billions of dollars in debt.

A planned $5.5 billion rail link through Thailand to southern China also hit resistance, with Thai critics targeting what they said were Beijing’s excessive demands and unfavourable financing. However, Thailand’s cabinet in July approved construction of the first phase of the project.

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Chinese tourists pose for photos as they visit Thailand


There has also been popular opposition to such deals around the region, raising the stakes for leaders.

In Myanmar, a $10 billion Chinese oil pipeline linked to the Belt and Road project sparked angry protests in May. Three years ago, the deployment of a Chinese oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea triggered anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam.

“The next level from here is you can see more social outcry,” said Sanchita Basu Das, lead researcher for economic affairs at the ASEAN Studies Center at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

“These are the checks and balances for some of these countries, especially those where leaders are elected for a specific number of years,” she said. “China will be mindful of that as well.”

GROWING DEPENDENCE The growing economic dependence on China is another concern for countries in the region with underlying vulnerabilities.

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Singapore’s skyline is seen June 17, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/Files

Consumption growth has been lagging in countries like Indonesia and Philippines, which are dependent on domestic demand, even as they posted growth figures of 5 percent and 6.5 percent in the second quarter. And investment from sources other than China is slowing, as are portfolio inflows.

Indonesia, which has been lagging its regional peers, cut interest rates last month.

In Thailand, where the economy grew 3.7 percent in the second quarter, the baht THB= has been surging in recent months, putting pressure on exporters, while the Philippine peso PHP= has been weakening on concerns over the country’s shrinking current account surplus.

If there was a downturn in China, it could have serious ripple effects in export-reliant countries like Thailand and Malaysia. Malaysia grew 5.8 percent in April-June.

“Southeast Asian countries are becoming more dependent on China,” said Jean-Charles Sambor, deputy head of EM fixed income, BNP Paribas Asset Management. An event like a sharp slowdown in China could have “a very significant spillover,” he said, citing exports, financing and investment.

For the moment, the Chinese economy remains strong and it appears that Southeast Asia is weathering a crackdown by Beijing on overseas acquisitions.

Data from China’s Ministry of Commerce shows outbound direct investment globally nearly halved in the first half of the year. But data from the American Enterprise Institute shows Chinese investments and construction contracts of $13.46 billion in the period, almost unchanged from a year earlier.

The initial stages of a rail line on Malaysia’s east coast, in which China Communications Construction Company has already invested $2 billion, according to the data, is one of the most high-profile investments.

Other investments, many of which are tied to the Belt and Road initiative, include energy projects in Laos, Cambodia and Philippines, another large railway investment in Indonesia and real estate purchases across the region.

This week, Thailand signed contracts worth 5.2 billion baht ($157 million) with Chinese state enterprises for a high-speed rail project with China.

“Notwithstanding the recent introduction of restrictions on outbound investment, Chinese investment in Southeast Asia is likely to remain strong over the coming years,” said Stephen Smith, lead partner at Deloitte Access Economics.

“Chinese authorities appear to remain strongly committed to investment in projects tied to the Belt and Road Initiative.”

Graphic – Southeast Asia’s export growth in key markets:

Additional reporting by Joseph Sipalan in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Philip McClellan

See also:



Indonesia to Buy $1.14 Billion Worth of Russian Jets

August 22, 2017

JAKARTA — Indonesia will buy 11 Sukhoi fighter jets worth $1.14 billion from Russia in exchange for cash and Indonesian commodities, two cabinet ministers said on Tuesday.

The Southeast Asian country has pledged to ship up to $570 million worth of commodities in addition to cash to pay for the Suhkoi SU-35 fighter jets, which are expected to be delivered in stages starting in two years.

Indonesian Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita said in a joint statement with Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu that details of the type and volume of commodities were “still being negotiated”. Previously he had said the exports could include palm oil, tea, and coffee.

The deal is expected to be finalised soon between Indonesian state trading company PT Perusahaan Perdangangan Indonesia and Russian state conglomerate Rostec.


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Indonesian Air Power – Pilots of the Air Force’s Sukhoi SU-30MK2 aircraft walk on the tarmac after a rehearsal of the 2016 Angkasa Yudha airborne training module at Hang Nadim Airport in Batam, Riau Islands, on Oct. 3, 2016. (Antara/MN Kanwa)


Hong Kong Closes 13 Beaches as Congealed Palm Oil Washes Ashore

August 8, 2017

HONG KONG — Hong Kong has closed more than a dozen beaches after a palm oil spill washed foul-smelling, Styrofoam-like clumps ashore, the latest environmental disaster to blight the territory’s waters.

The Chinese-controlled city closed two more beaches in the south of Hong Kong island on Tuesday, bringing to 13 the total shut since two vessels collided in the Pearl River estuary.

It took two days for mainland Chinese authorities to inform Hong Kong about the collision, the government said. Media said the accident happened on Thursday.

The spill has sparked outrage among some residents and environmentalists and comes just a year after mountains of rubbish washed up on Hong Kong’s beaches, with labels and packaging indicating most of it had come from mainland China.

It also comes at the height of summer, when beaches and outlying islands are packed with daytrippers, campers and holiday makers, especially at weekends.

The Hong Kong government said it had collected 50 tonnes of palm oil so far, most of it congealed, while workers scooped up 110 bags of palm oil waste on one beach alone on the popular Lamma Island.

Media reported that 1,000 tonnes of palm oil spilled into the water after the vessels collided.

The Environmental Protection Department has collected water samples from affected beaches and said it planned to release its results later in the day.

The government said in a statement that palm oil was non-toxic and harmless, but given the large amount that had washed up on beaches and the fact that the laboratory results were not yet available, the beaches would remain closed.

Hong Kong’s coastal waters and beaches are often strewn with rubbish from mainland China, where some companies discharge waste into the sea to save the cost of proper disposal, according to conservationists.

In 2012, hundreds of millions of tiny plastic pellets washed up on Hong Kong’s beaches following a container spill during a typhoon, prompting a massive clean-up operation.

(Reporting By Anne Marie Roantree and Donny Kwok; Editing by Nick Macfie)


Indonesia to Barter Coffee, Palm Oil, Tea And Other Agricultural Commodities for Russian Jet Fighters

August 6, 2017

Jakarta Post

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Indonesian Air Power – Pilots of the Air Force’s Sukhoi SU-30MK2 aircraft walk on the tarmac after a rehearsal of the 2016 Angkasa Yudha airborne training module at Hang Nadim Airport in Batam, Riau Islands, on Oct. 3, 2016. (Antara/MN Kanwa)

Indonesian state-owned trading company PT Perusahaan Perdagangan and Russian state-owned company Rostec have signed a memorandum of understanding to barter Indonesian agricultural commodities for Russian jet fighters.

“The barter deal, which is under the supervision of the two governments, will involve 11 Sukhoi SU-35 jet fighters and several commodities like coffee, palm oil, tea and others,” Trade Minister Enggartiasto “Enggar” Lukita said in a statement on Friday.

Enggar, who is on an official visit to Russia from Aug. 3 to 5, expressed his hope that the agreement would be followed by other agreements in other sectors.

Read also: Indonesia working on Russian barter offer: Trade MinisterRussia currently faces economic sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union. In response, Russia has limited imports from the US and EU and is looking to other countries for commodity imports.

“It is an opportunity we have to seize. The great potential for economic cooperation during the embargo and counter embargo goes beyond trade and investment issues. We also have the opportunity to enhance cooperation in tourism, student exchange, energy, technology, aviation, etc.,” Enggar added.

Trade between Indonesia and Russia in 2016 amounted to US$2.11 billion – with Indonesia posting a surplus of $411 million – compared to $1.9 billion in 2015. Indonesian non-oil exports to Russia grew by 8.50 percent in the last five years to a value of $1.3 billion in 2016, while Indonesian exports from January to May this year grew by 54.43 percent to $1.12 billion. (bbn)


Indonesia in haze warning as fires flare

August 19, 2016


© AFP | Forest fires in Ogan Ilir, Indonesia’s South Sumatra province

JAKARTA (AFP) – Indonesia warned Friday that haze from forest fires was floating over a key waterway towards its neighbours, and that the number of blazes was rising.

The fires and resulting smog are an annual dry season problem in the archipelago, when blazes are started illegally to quickly and cheaply clear land, typically to make way for palm oil and pulpwood plantations.

But last year’s haze outbreak was among the worst in memory, shrouding Malaysia, Singapore and parts of Thailand in acrid smoke. The crisis forced school closures and caused thousands to fall sick across the region.

While this year’s fires have yet to reach the levels of 2015, the number has been rising in recent weeks as Indonesia heads towards its peak dry season in September.

Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho warned that smoke had Thursday started floating across the Malacca Strait, which runs between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

“Smoke from forest and land fires in Riau (province) has started to enter the Malacca Strait,” he tweeted.

“Let’s prevent and put out the fires.”

Riau, on western Sumatra island, is a major centre of the palm oil and pulpwood industry, and many fires occur there every year.

He also said the number of “hotspots” detected by satellites — areas of intense heat that are either already on fire or vulnerable to going up in flames — had increased in West Kalimantan province, on Indonesia’s part of Borneo island.

A total of 158 hotspots were detected in the province on Friday, up from 106 a day earlier.

The governor of the province, a centre of the palm oil industry, had asked the disaster agency to provide helicopters for water-bombing and “cloud-seeding”, or chemically inducing rain, said Nugroho.

Indonesia has faced intense criticism from its neighbours and the international community over its failure to halt the annual smog outbreaks.

Jakarta has promised tougher action. It has announced a plan to stop granting new land for palm oil plantations, and established an agency to restore millions of hectares of carbon-rich peatlands susceptible to fires.


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Smoke, Haze and Air Pollution Harmful to Human Health: Singapore has served notice on Indonesian companies — “We are going after, to put it starkly, the bad guys that are causing this problem.”

July 3, 2016


JAKARTA (AFP) – Singapore is refusing to back down in its pursuit of those responsible for haze-belching forest fires in South-east Asia last year, despite struggling to bring the perpetrators before the courts and drawing a sharp rebuke from neighbouring Indonesia.

Forest fires are part of an annual dry-season problem in Indonesia, started illegally to quickly and cheaply clear land for cultivation – particularly for palm oil and pulpwood.

But last year’s haze outbreak was among the worst in memory, shrouding Malaysia, Singapore, and parts of Thailand in acrid smoke and forcing school closures as pollution reached hazardous levels and thousands fell sick across the region.

Singapore has served notice to six Indonesian companies it believes may have cleared land by burning but could target others as investigations continue, according to Singapore’s ambassador to Indonesia Anil Kumar Nayar.

“We are going after, to put it starkly, the bad guys that are causing this problem,” he told AFP in an interview last week.

However, the city-state’s efforts to punish Indonesian companies under its own anti-haze law have become a flashpoint with Jakarta.

Singapore argues that international rules allow states to take action – even if harm is being caused by activities outside its jurisdiction – but Jakarta has questioned how Singapore could pursue Indonesian citizens for prosecution, especially in the absence of a ratified extradition treaty between the neighbours.

The latest sabre-rattling came after Singapore issued a court warrant in May to detain a director of an Indonesian company linked to the haze while he was in the city-state.

Afterwards, Indonesia’s Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said that she would be reviewing her ministry’s cooperation with Singapore on environmental issues.

“Singapore cannot step further into Indonesia’s legal domain,” Bakar told reporters in June. Her spokesman declined to comment further on the matter when contacted.

Nayar reiterated that Singapore wasn’t crossing any line pursuing these companies and was within its rights to enforce its law.

“We are not doing something that is extraordinary. It is not targeting any country, or anybody’s sovereignty,” he said.

The law threatens local and foreign firms with fines of up to S$100,000 for every day Singapore endures unhealthy haze pollution.

So far just two of the companies have responded to the court order, Nayar said, without naming specific firms.

Singapore has repeatedly asked Indonesia for details about companies – such as maps showing who owns what concessions – but says Jakarta has not provided any information.

Singapore would “continue to press”, Nayar said, but added the evidence needed to prosecute these companies could be found by other means.

“We could go that way as well, but at the end of the day this is part of a legal process. We want to be working with the Indonesian government,” he said.

One of Indonesia’s main arguments is that a regional approach to solving the haze crisis would be more effective than individual action.

“They (Singapore) know our view on this, on how we can best address this issue of haze through the Asean mechanism,” ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir told AFP.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has an agreement to create a haze-free region by 2020, though it took 14 years to be fully ratified.

Nayar says regional progress on curbing haze has been slow.

Fellow Asean member Malaysia, which also suffers during the haze outbreaks, has expressed interest in adopting its own law similar to Singapore’s to pursue errant companies.

Jakarta has promised tougher action in the wake of last year’s haze disaster, which turned skies yellow in Indonesia’s part of Borneo island and dealt the economy a US$16 billion blow.

The government announced in May it would no longer grant new land for palm oil plantations, and established a new agency to restore millions of hectares of carbon-rich peatlands susceptible to fires.



Fires raged on peatlands on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, Indonesia, on Nov 1.
Fires raged on peatlands on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, Indonesia, on Nov 1, 2015. Photo: Getty Images


Singapore Central Business District, or CBD skyline is covered with a thick haze.


Image may contain: one or more people

An Indonesian woman and a child walk on a bamboo bridge as thick yellow haze shrouds Palangkaraya on Oct 22, 2015. AFP photo