French Assembly Approves Extra Tax on Non-Sustainable Palm Oil

The French government now backs the tax, originally proposed by a senator, since it has been reduced and excludes oils if producers prove they were produced in a sustainable way.

It still needs to be reviewed in the upper house, likely in May or June.

“The introduction into France’s fiscal legislation of a tax on products whose impact on deforestation is recognised worldwide, gives a strong signal by France in terms of environmental protection,” Barbara Pompili, Junior Minister for the environment in charge of biodiversity, told the National Assembly.

Indonesia and Malaysia have said the tax is discriminatory and Indonesia raised the issue at the World Trade Organisation earlier this month when the level of the new levy was still at 300 euros a tonne for all palm oil used in food.

Pompili said that the fact that it had been lowered and that so-called sustainable palm oil was excluded should make it acceptable.

“This tax clearly respects the Treaty of the World Trade Organisation because it only targets palm and copra oil that do not meet sustainable environmental criteria,” she said.

But Malaysian producers did not agree.

“The ‘differential’ tax proposal is a clear violation of both WTO and EU rules,” Yusof Basiron head of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) said in a statement, calling the tax discriminatory and disproportionate.

The French government had backed an amendment making the tax progressive, starting at 30 euros next year to rise to 90 euros in 2020 to allow a softer transition, but it could not be submitted to vote because the authors were away, a parliament source said, leaving the tax at a flat rate of 90 euros.

Copra (coconut) and palm kernel oil, also subject to the tax, are commonly used in commercial cooking. They are currently taxed at 113 euros a metric ton.

It would not affect cosmetics and biofuels two sectors in which vegetable oils are widely used.

France imports about 100,000 tonnes of Indonesian palm oil per year and 11,000 tonnes of Malaysian palm oil last year.

Palm oil producers expressed concern ahead of the vote that even if French imports were not big, the new tax may have repercussions in other countries.

This is not the first attempt in France to impose a special tax on palm oil, which campaigners say contributes to deforestation and impacts biodiversity. All had failed, mainly due to strong lobbying from producing countries.

Past proposals were dubbed the “Nutella tax” by the French media because the popular chocolate-hazelnut paste contains about 20 percent palm oil.

However, since 2013, Nutella sold in France has been made exclusively with palm oil from sustainable supplies, the maker, privately owned Ferrero, says. That would make Nutella exempt under the terms of the current proposal  the first to differentiate on that basis.

Strong public opposition against palm oil in France, also amid fears that its high level of saturated fat could be harmful to human health, has prompted several supermarkets in the country to commit to ban the use of palm oil in their own-brand products by the end of the decade.


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