© Brot für alle (BFA)
As soon as the negotiations on an FTA between EFTA and Indonesia started to take shape in 2006, Public Eye and other NGOs from EFTA countries invited a delegation of Indonesian NGOs that voiced the concerns felt within Indonesian civil society. Since then, Public Eye, has been working with partner organisations, persistently fighting against a tariff exemption for Indonesian palm oil imports under the FTA – and has achieved a partial success.

The Indonesian delegates clearly outlined the negative consequences that they feared an FTA with EFTA countries would have at various lobbying meetings. Alongside criticism of the usual EFTA demands around liberalising financial sectors and strengthening intellectual property rights, one Indonesian NGO representative stressed the importance of the Indonesian government including the Indonesian people in the process and of analysing exactly what kind of trade policy would serve their pressing needs and interests:

Bilateral free trade agreements contain hidden mechanisms to safeguard the privileges and wealth of multinational companies and the interests of powerful governments.

The controversial removal of tariffs on palm oil

After 15 rounds of negotiations an agreement has yet to be reached. One reason for this is Indonesia’s demand for palm oil to be exempt from tariffs (see FTA with Malaysia).

Civil society organisations in both countries have been vigorously fighting this. Switzerland cannot give preferential treatment to a product if producing it causes human rights violations and environmental damage.

In order to cultivate this versatile oil, indigenous people are robbed of their land and thus their means of survival. Huge swathes of rainforest are cleared, and those displaced are left with no option but to sign up as day labourers at the plantations, where they have to work under inhumane conditions for a meagre wage.