Jakarta – Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto on Monday criticized the European Union over its ban on palm oil imports and said Europeans during colonial times were also guilty of deforestation.
The EU in April passed a law which would ban imports of commodities linked to forest destruction, including palm oil of which Indonesia is the world's biggest producer.
Prabowo, who is leading opinion polls ahead of a presidential election next February, said Indonesia maintains "good" relations with Europe "although we have problems sometimes with the European Union".
"We open our market to you," he said, citing Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen vehicles as examples. "But you won't allow us to sell palm oil, and now we have problems trying to sell coffee, tea, cocoa," he told a forum organized by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
The European Union said in an email that it could not comment on statements by Indonesia's political candidates.
"This Regulation is for everyone, in and outside Europe. It applies to commodities, not countries, and is neither punitive nor protectionist, but creates a level playing field," it said, adding it engages partners "so we can continue trade, but without deforestation."
Until the ban, the EU was the third-largest buyer of Indonesian palm oil.
Palm oil production is often blamed by environmentalists for deforestation but Prabowo said that during colonial rule, Europeans forced Indonesians to plant tea, coffee, rubber and cocoa and "you destroyed our forests before."
Indonesia was a Dutch colony when it was known as the Dutch East Indies and an important source of wealth, thanks to the trade in spices.
Prabowo said that if he wins the presidency: "I don't want protectionism, I want an equal playing field."
Indonesia is a major producer of coffee, cocoa, rubber and timber products and about 6 billion euros ($6.41 billion) of its annual exports will be affected by the EU's deforestation law, its chief economic minister has said.
The EU, Indonesia and neighboring Malaysia, the world's second-largest palm oil producer, have formed a task force to discuss the law.