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Palm oil row fuels Swiss vote on Indonesia trade deal

Published : Sunday, 7 March, 2021 at 12:00 AM  Count : 133

ZURICH, March 6: Switzerland votes Sunday on a free trade deal with Indonesia but the agreement, which opens up a vast potential market, could slip up over the issue of palm oil imports.
Under the deal, tariffs would be gradually removed from almost all of Switzerland's biggest exports to the world's fourth most populous country, while the Swiss would abolish duties on Indonesian industrial products.
Anyone importing Indonesian palm oil must prove that it meets certain environmental and social standards.
But controversy around palm oil and its sustainability fuelled enough concern in Switzerland to trigger a public vote.
Two separate polls in February put support for the deal at 52  per cent, with 41 to 42  per cent against.
The agreement was signed in 2018 and approved by the Swiss parliament in 2019, but opponents were especially critical of Bern's move to reduce import duties on palm oil.
The deal contains exceptions for agricultural products, notably to protect Switzerland's sunflower and rapeseed oil production.
For palm oil, customs duties will not be removed but instead reduced by between 20  per cent to 40  per cent.
These reductions will only be granted on a volume limited to 12,500 tonnes per year -- and importers will need to prove that the palm oil has been produced in a sustainable manner.
Campaign posters backing the economic partnership agreement show a Swiss bear hugging a tiger, while those against show an orangutan and baby clinging to a tree trunk, surrounded by flames.
The agreement aims to boost ties with Indonesia, which despite its population is only Switzerland's 44th biggest economic partner, and only its 16th biggest export market in Asia.    -AFP

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