Even if it means losing one of his country’s biggest palm oil export markets, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Tuesday he would not retract his criticism of India’s actions in Kashmir after Indian traders called for a boycott of Malaysian palm oil.
India’s top vegetable oil trade body on Monday asked its members to stop buying Malaysian palm oil after Mahathir said at the UN General Assembly last month that India had “invaded and occupied” Kashmir.
The state of Jammu & Kashmir has been in a state of lockdown since 5 August, when the Indian government effectively abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, which granted the state a special status, and downgraded it into two union territories.
The government’s announcements were followed by a heavy security clampdown, a communications blackout and large-scale arrests and detentions in the state, triggering outrage from across the world.
“We speak out our minds and we don’t retract and change,” Malaysian newspaper The Star quoted the 94-year-old leader as saying at a press conference.
“We felt that the people of Kashmir had benefited from the resolution of the United Nations, and all we are saying is that we should all abide, not just India and Pakistan, but even the United States of America and other countries…Otherwise, what’s the good of having the UN?” The Star reported him saying on Tuesday.
The second-time PM added that while Malaysia needs to be “nice to people” as it relies on trade with others, it also has to “speak up for people”.
“So, sometimes what we say is liked by some and disliked by others,” The Star quoted him as saying.
Mahathir said Malaysia would study the impact of the boycott called by the Mumbai-based Solvent Extractors Association of India, and look at ways to address the issue.
The Centre has so far refused to comment on the trade spat.
“This is not the Indian government, so we have to find out how we can communicate with these people, because trade is a two-way thing, and it is bad to have what amounts to a trade war,” Mahathir said.
Malaysia’s exports to India were worth $10.8 billion in the fiscal year that ended on March 31, while imports totalled $6.4 billion, according to Indian government data. Malaysian palm oil futures slipped on Tuesday over concerns demand would fall from India.
India was Malaysia’s third-largest export destination in 2018 for palm oil and palm-based products worth 6.84 billion ringgit ($1.63 billion).
India, the world’s biggest importer of edible oils, also buys palm oil from Indonesia as well as soy oil from Argentina and Brazil, and sunflower oil from Ukraine.