Sunday Times (18/04/2021) - The Government has taken two steps back after the first step of banning the import of palm oil, the most popular cooking oil, which followed the Prime Minister’s directive of lifting the restriction on certain refined palm oil based products within 24 hours of the President’s prohibition order.
According to the sequence of events, the Controller General of Department of Imports and Exports Control was advised by the Presidential Secretariat on April 5 to issue the relevant gazette notification banning palm oil imports totally with immediate effect. She issued a notification that the import of palm oil has been suspended immediately. Further, Director-General of Customs was informed of this decision and directed to desist from clearing imported palm oil containers at the Colombo Port.
This move was made following the detection of aflatoxin in crude coconut oil imported recently and the practice of mixing palm oil and coconut oil in producing cooking oil, official sources said.
Local environmentalists have been protesting against palm oil plantations in which they have claimed led to widespread deforestation and damage to ecosystems.
Sri Lanka imports around 200,000-250,000 tonnes of palm oil every year, mainly from Indonesia and Malaysia, official data showed.
After the ban was announced, leading local importers, cooking oil producers, bakery owners and confectionery manufacturers exerted pressure on the Government to reverse its decision as palm oil was required for their production.
Under these circumstances, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in his capacity as the Finance Minister issued a special gazette notification on April 1 allowing the importation of refined palm oil, easing the total restriction of palm oil imports.
Under these new regulations, the importation of palm oil and its fractions which are chemically modified, palm oil in 210 litre cans, and palm crude oil except palm olein, the liquid fraction obtained during fractionation of palm oil, has been banned.
Palm oil and its fractions which are not chemically modified have been allowed to import subject to special license regulations, the Finance Ministry indicated in its gazette notification.
However these regulations are not applicable for BOI companies engaged in the production of cooking oil and palm oil-based products for the export market, official sources said.
These companies are allowed to import palm oil without any restrictions; sources said adding that the companies engaged in producing palm oil based products, bakery fat and vanaspathi ghee for the Indian market are allowed to import crude palm oil without any restrictions.