27/05/2008 (Bernama), Dubai - A palm oil trade fair began here Monday as Malaysia moves to sustain and enhance its palm oil trade with Middle East countries, with the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) projecting the Southeast Asian country's palm oil exports to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to hit 400,000 metric tonnes this year.
In his keynote address at the inaugural Malaysia-UAE Palm Oil Trade Fair and Seminar (POTS) Dubai 2008, MPOC chairman Datuk Seri Lee Oi Hian highlighted the fact that the Middle East is a very important market for Malaysian palm oil, the region being one of the world's largest vegetable oil consumers.
"It requires some 10 million tonnes of oils and fats annually, of which eight million tonnes or 80 percent are imported. The UAE, Iran, Turkey and Egypt rank top among the major importers of oils and fats in the region," he said.
In addition, Lee said, the UAE has shown steady demand for Malaysian palm oil, importing more than 350,000 tonnes, with 75 percent being palm olein, in 2007 and re-exporting between 80 and 85 percent of its palm oil imports to neighbouring countries and beyond.
"It could serve as a strong partner and play an important role in developing and enhancing trade among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and other Islamic countries," was how he viewed the wealthy Gulf nation of four million people.
The 400,000 tonnes projection was mentioned by MPOC chief executive officer Tan Sri Dr Yusof Basiron at a press conference following the opening of POTS Dubai organised by the MPOC and Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), themed "Exceeding Expectations, Enriching Partnerships".
Lee said Malaysia exported 13.8 million tonnes of palm oil to the world last year, accounting for 50 percent of world palm oil exports and 25 percent of the global oils and fats trade.
Although competition continues to be an important feature of the trade, there are opportunities ahead for all involved in the business to forge partnerships and closer relations, he said.
"Above all, there is an even greater need for all the producers of oils and fats to work together to meet the insatiable and increasingly sophisticated demand of the world's consumers," he added.
Lee said many world renowned companies have come to Malaysia to establish joint ventures not only due to the availability of raw materials such as palm oil and palm kernel oil, but also because the country offered the right policies to help in the growth of the palm oil downstream sector.
The MPOC chairman, however, cautioned that the global business for edible oils will have to come to terms with many more challenges in the years to come, citing the example of how environmental concerns are fast turning into a trade issue.
He drew the attention of the audience to the situation where the failure of a campaign to discredit palm oil based on health issues has now shifted to one that is based on environmental grounds.
"Allow me this opportunity to assure you that the Malaysian palm oil industry has always adopted responsible agricultural practices and sustainable development will remain on our agenda," he said.
The Malaysian government, he added, has also set up the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund as part of the efforts taken by the Malaysian palm oil fraternity to ensure that the palm oil sector is developed in an organised manner without endangering wildlife.
Present at the opening of POTS Dubai were Dubai Chamber director-general Hammad Buamim, Malaysian consul general in Dubai Syed Mohamad Hasrin Tengku Hussin, MPOB director-general Datuk Dr Mohamad Basri Wahid, Dr Yusof and MPOC regional director for Middle East Ahmad Zafri Zawawi.