2020-01-16 22:53:26 BdST

BD open to raising palm oil imports from Malaysia


In some good news for Malaysian palm oil sellers, Bangladesh is open to increasing palm oil imports from the Southeast Asian country if it offers competitive prices.

"If they approach us we’ll welcome them," Reuters reported quoting agriculture minister Abdur Razzak on Thursday. "We can raise imports from Malaysia if we get a better price from them."

When asked about India’s move to stop palm oil imports from Malaysia, the world’s second biggest producer and exporter of the commodity after Indonesia, he said, "It’s rather good, prices of palm oil are coming down."

Bangladesh mainly buys palm oil from Indonesia, which is expected to be the biggest beneficiary of the Malaysia-India dispute.

Last week, India, the world’s biggest buyer of edible oils, placed curbs on imports of refined palm oil and has informally asked traders to stop importing all kinds of palm oil from Malaysia.

In a bid to resolve concerns over New Delhi’s new palm oil import restrictions, Malaysia has already started talking to the Indian government and trade officials, a minister in Kuala Lumpur said on Thursday amid a trade spat between the countries.

India’s Hindu nationalist government has repeatedly objected to Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad speaking out against recent policies which critics say discriminate against Muslims. Malaysia is a Muslim-majority nation.

Mahathir, the 94-year-old premier who is vocal on issues concerning the Muslim world, ignored a question from Reuters on the spat with India on the sidelines of a separate event on Thursday.

On Tuesday, he said Malaysia was concerned about the palm oil curbs but indicated he would continue to speak out against "wrong things" even if it costs his country financially.

Last month, he criticised India’s new religion-based citizenship laws, which critics say discriminate against Muslims, and its policies in the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir, which is also claimed by Pakistan.

India was Malaysia’s biggest buyer of palm oil in 2019, buying 4.4 million tonnes. In 2020, purchases could fall below 1.0 million tonnes if relations do not improve, Indian traders say.

To make up for the potential loss, Malaysian officials say they are trying to sell more to countries such as Pakistan, the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

But replacing a massive buyer like India will not be easy, and there have been calls for both countries to talk it out putting aside any "personal or diplomatic ego".

The other concern for Malaysia is that following the signing of an initial trade deal between the United States and China on Wednesday, China could buy more soyoil from the United States and less Malaysian palm oil.

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