Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia — Malaysia and Indonesia will discuss the problem of burning on palm oil plantations which contributes to haze in the region when officials meet this week, a Minister said Sunday.
Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister, Datuk Peter Chin, said the half-yearly meeting with his Indonesian counterpart would also tackle commodity issues and “areas we feel we are uncomfortable” with.
“Whatever it is that affects us, that we feel ought to be talked about, we will raise it with the Indonesians,” said Chin, who departs Monday for the Indonesian city of Medan.
“Obviously this is a subject we can also talk about,” he told AFP, when asked if open burning on plantations would be raised.
Parts of Malaysia’s west have seen the return of haze in recent days, which authorities have blamed mainly on open burning in parts of Indonesia, including on Sumatra island.
The Environment Department said Saturday that air quality in the area of Kuala Selangor on the country’s west coast, which is adjacent to Sumatra, had deteriorated to unhealthy levels due to haze, although it had cleared by Sunday morning.
Burning to clear land in Indonesia and some parts of Malaysia contributes to an annual haze that afflicts countries in the region including Singapore and Thailand. The worst-ever bout in 1997 and 1998 cost the region an estimated US$9 billion in damage by disrupting air travel and other business activities.
Chin said talks would also include prices for and supply and demand of key commodities such as palm oil, pepper and cocoa. Malaysia and Indonesia in May signed a memorandum aimed at developing these sectors.
Media reports have said the pact will see the countries cooperate to set prices for palm oil to keep them from being dictated by traders in non-producing nations, a move Chin denied was price-fixing.
“We are talking about the supply and demand situation that affects commodities that we are commonly producing. That doesn’t mean we are cooperating to fix prices,” Chin said, adding the countries would monitor whatever “affects the ups and downs of prices.”
“If we look at it closely, we could be very effective in terms of making sure that supplies are available at the right time,” he said.