Khor Reports newsletter

Khor Report's Palm Oil Jan/Feb 2014, Issue 6 (now on public release)

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Earlier, we had released some of the draft articles in this blog. Click on the links below in contents listing! Do check out our feature story on South Asia!

South Asia’s need, 11 million tonne predominance of imported palm oil
Feature: South Asia competition, tariff impacts & local India palm oil. Non-dairy ice cream.

Wilmar-Unilever supply-chain jolt, biodiesel stuttering start
Sustainability: TFT-Greenpeace principles lead
Science: remote-sensing & extreme transparency
Spreads narrow, PO exports to dip & demand shift?

Editorial - New challenge for the supply chain
3 briefing Indonesia tepid tender. Malaysia Bangladesh worker deal. US transfats demise.
4 science Remote-sensing technology uses.
5 sustainability Wilmar’s strong pledges
6-7 feature South Asia. Non-dairy ice cream.
8 prices & data Key vegetable oils. Weather outlook. CPO technical view. Price charts.

Editorial: New challenge for the supply chain

From Khor Reports's Palm Oil Newsletter #6 Jan/Feb 2014

Editorial: New challenge for the supply chain

Wilmar, the largest trader of palm oil in the world, has come out to change its supply chain promise, signing a deal to secure its position supplying to Unilever. The Anglo-Dutch consumer goods behemoth, ranked #2 in the world after Nestle, had weeks earlier promised to accelerate its sustainability push. Unilever has taken a lead in promoting the principle of sustainability in its materials sourcing via a top role at the RSPO from its inception nearly 10 years ago. For Unilever’s efforts to reduce environmental damage, Dutchman "Polman is the first CEO of a major multinational company to receive the Duke of Edinburgh conservation award since it began in 1970," Bloomberg reported 3 Dec 2013. Wilmar has faced NGO grumblings for not practicing sustainable sourcing for its third-party purchases (which is many times bigger than its own internal production) and over its sale of troubled assets. With its new promise, the giant trader is challenged to rationalize its supply chain. How will Wilmar achieve this without downsizing its business? In general, traceability with high level promises is tougher for large traders with complex supply chains. Industry talk in recent weeks has centered on top producers being asked to sign on to a new RSPO++ manifesto (characterized by multiple additional criteria), building on TFT-Greenpeace principles (they have become de facto new leaders of palm oil sustainability, seizing power from the WWF-driven RSPO). If the key palm oil producers accede, it could be business-as-usual for Wilmar but its cost structure may shift. Its promises can be fulfilled by tough action by its trade partners. Thus, we await information from other industry players on the manner of their support of Wilmar-Unilever.

Questions of impact abound. Could this bring on faster unit cost convergence for large-scale corporate SE Asia palm oil vs Brazil soybean oil? For the industry at large, policy makers should be concerned with: a) how a traceable, no-peat, no deforestation, GHG-reducing palm oil supply chain will look like; b) who will be the winners and the losers; and c) how the transition will be effected, and with what effort to mitigate the impact on the losers. Politics may even be a factor given the size of the smallholder sector, rural development programs and promises. How will the new TFT-Greenpeace-driven principles be operationalized? Khor Report thinks that each palm oil mill will need to be supply-chain risk categorized. Could this segment different production zones with discounting factors? Will a November 1995 baseline apply and will high carbon stock measurement become essential? In this regard, the Golden Agri/Sinar Mas pilot done by TFT-Greenpeace is important. What requirements will Africa face even as it remains a net importer for years and has great hopes for rural development?

Various tropical and other commodities face pressures from an ascendant and increasingly well-funded international green movement. The key to its penetration is in promoting new global voluntary standards that have strong staying power. In taking on technical consulting roles NGOs can become self-funding and perpetuating in these sectors. In relative terms, the corporate sector has been scrabbling for footing amidst this structural change, while the independent and smallholder sectors are adrift with little voice. The largest plantation companies (especially those with European assets and market exposure) have been moving ahead. The swing from WWF to TFT-Greenpeace leadership in sustainability is happening just as developed markets think twice about biofuels policies and bumper oilseed crops are anticipated. The falling price ceiling of vegetable oil substitutes is crushing the palm oil price discount differential while big growers (i) face a new cost component at newly acquired estates via the RSPO compensation procedure (in “staged implementation” with a launch target of Nov 2014) and (ii) plan how to step up to the TFT-Wilmar demands. This new cost and opportunity cost intensive phase of the sustainability push proves its strategic importance on the entire palm oil supply-chain, if ever there were any doubt.

Look out for Khor Reports' Palm Oil Newsletter #6, Jan/Feb 2014! This article is a sneak preview article from this issue (delayed in publication process)

Malaysia palm oil looks to Bangladesh for workers

From Khor Reports's Palm Oil Newsletter #6 Jan/Feb 2014

Seeking workers

Bangladesh migrant workers are now available to key Malaysia sectors (including plantations) on a government-to-government or G2G arrangement basis. The employment of Bangladesh workers in Malaysian plantations is not new. It is thought that the very first batch was recruited in the early 1990s by IOI Corp. Application submission have been made by many companies. The G2G method bypasses the current private broker network for migrant workers, hopefully eliminating the so-called unfair broker fees paid by the migrant workers (a worry to anti-“forced labour” campaigners).

However, hirers note that the G2G method isn't exactly a cheap process. Bangladesh is a possible diversification from the Indonesia worker base, which Malaysia has become startlingly reliant upon.
Plantations have put in the numbers sought; for now the larger ones seem to apply for 300-500 workers. Some have got the first 40-50 or so workers approved, and early submitters may have some 300 approved each. Questions include: (i) whether the levy goes to the Ministry of Primary Industries and Commodities (ii) whether the G2G arrangement can be extended to Sabah (now only for the Peninsula), (iii) how to accelerate and streamline the approval process, including allowing two or more simultaneous applications (interviews with 6 companies, Dec 2013).

Look out for Khor Reports' Palm Oil Newsletter #6, Jan/Feb 2014! This article is a sneak preview article from this issue (delayed in publication process)

Indonesia biodiesel - a tepid first tender

From Khor Reports's Palm Oil Newsletter #6 Jan/Feb 2014

A tepid tender

Indonesia’s biodiesel program is getting off to a slow start. Palm oil biodiesel players do not seem to like the “below gas oil benchmark” and the depot-delivered price offered. Below benchmark pricing means that palm oil prices may end up being higher than the selling price of biodiesel and sellers pay (often high) transport costs to the depots (interviews, Nov 2013). Thus, “Pertamina (the national oil company) received bids representing only 18% of the biodiesel tender target of 6.6m kiloleters (for two years supply).” Most producers were unable to bid competitively, with the “price below MOPS (Mean of Platts Singapore) – or MOPS minus alpha – although data over the past four years revealed that biodiesel price has mostly traded above MOPS… (Thus, DBS says) expect the participation rate to remain low for the next biodiesel tender” (Kontan & DBS Research, 2 Jan 2014). Depending on spreads of palm with gas oil prices, exports may prove more attractive.

Dorab Mistry said that Indonesia’s move to increase blending (alongside Malaysia and Brazil; while the USA and the EU balks) will be a “game changer” for palm oil demand. Indonesia upped its biodiesel blend in subsidized fuel from 7.5 to 10% in September 2013 and expanded its 2014 mandate to non-subsidized fuel and industrial users. Biodiesel capacity may jump to 8.8 (by end-2015) from 5.6 million kiloliters (in 2013; Biofuel Producers Association). Mistry says “domestic mandates for biodiesel in Indonesia and Malaysia will work as long as palm prices remain competitive with Brent crude… Between July and October, the spread between palm and gas oil was enough to create an additional monthly biodiesel demand of 100,000 to 150,000 tonnes.” About 6.34 million tonnes of palm oil may be processed into fuel in 2013 (Oil World;, 14 Nov 2013).

While Indonesia’s expanding biodiesel program offers new demand for its rising production, the road is not smooth with an unfavourable price formula. We reiterate our concern that key producer economies may lack the fiscal room to sufficiently subsidize biofuels, while political will vacillates.
EU biofuels update: Its governments failed to agree on the level of biodiesel usage. In September 2013, the European Parliament voted for a 6% cap on biodiesel to prevent an EU requirement that at least 10% renewables in transportation energy in 2020. (Bloomberg cited in AmResearch, 16 Dec 2013). Also, “EU policy makers rejected plans to push biofuel suppliers to report increased greenhouse-gas emissions” so there is now an “indefinite delay on ILUC (indirect landuse change)” (, 12 Dec 2013).

Khor Reports blog note: The results of a new tender are due soon. Industry talk is that Wilmar bid at MOPS plus. Big sellers are facing off with a big buyer's price formula?

Look out for Khor Reports' Palm Oil Newsletter #6, Jan/Feb 2014! This article is a sneak preview article from this issue (delayed in publication process)

US transfats demise

Palm oil sits about mid-point in fatty acid composition; it is semi-solid or half solid and half liquid. 1 in 6 food products it but Dr Kalyana Sundram of the Malaysia Palm Oil Council (PIPOC presentation, 22 Nov 2013) notes a surfeit of emotion in calling palm oil bad for health. Food labelling requirements are on the rise while campaigners “re-invent” the association of palm oil with health issues (several large medical studies find no / no significant association; other studies find palm olein reduces cholesterol as effectively as olive and canola / rapeseed oils). This is sometimes done in combination with sustainability issues; to significant effect in the Francophone world.

Hydrogenation takes a liquid oil, including soybean, to make it solid, creating transfats in the process. Post-World War Two, Unilever incorporated it into margarine. In the 1980s, food industries reformulated to avoid palm oil and the USA and Europe were awash with transfats. Mensink & Katan (New England Journal of Medicine, 1990) showed that margarines were not healthy as transfats increase the risk of heart disease. Harvard Medical School work also challenged hydrogenated oils in the 1990s and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concurred. Manufacturers reformulated to reduce transfats. The FDA sought evidence for the promotion of palm oil on no-transfats grounds. Sundram’s 2001 study showed that it is safer to eat saturated fats than transfats. US palm oil use boomed, exceeding 1.2 million tonnes. The only reliable commodity substitute was (still is) palm oil.

In November 2013, challenged by a legal suit the US FDA removed its “generally regarded as safe” / GRAS status for transfats. In a single serving food manufacturers were allowed 0.49 grams of transfats (serving sizes were cut to comply). Transfats is now regarded as an additive and not a food ingredient. This is expected to boost palm oil demand in the US market by another 150,000 tonnes in 2014. When will others move on transfats?
Look out for Khor Reports' Palm Oil Newsletter #6, Jan/Feb 2014! This article is a sneak preview article from this issue.