Malaysian PM Mahathir defends criticism of India’s citizenship law despite palm oil backlash

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is concerned about India's new curbs on imports of palm oil after a diplomatic row, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Tuesday (Jan 14), but indicated he would continue to speak out against "wrong things" even if it costs his country financially.

India, the world's biggest buyer of edible oils, last week changed rules that traders say effectively ban imports of refined palm oil from Malaysia, the world's second-biggest producer and exporter of palm oil after Indonesia.

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READ: India asks refiners to stop buying Malaysian palm oil after political row: Sources

READ: India's palm oil ban will spark price war with Indonesia – Malaysian industry association

The move came after New Delhi objected to Mahathir's criticism of India's new religion-based citizenship law.

The 94-year-old premier, whose outspoken nature has soured ties with both India and Saudi Arabia in recent months, earlier accused India of invading the disputed Muslim-majority region of Kashmir.

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As Malaysian palm refiners stare at a massive loss of business, Mahathir said his government would find a solution.

"We are concerned of course because we sell a lot of palm oil to India, but on the other hand we need to be frank and see that if something goes wrong, we will have to say it," he told reporters.

"If we allow things to go wrong and think only about the money involved, then I think a lot of wrong things will be done, by us and by other people."

READ: Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir stands by Kashmir comments despite India palm oil boycott

The benchmark palm oil contract for March delivery was down 0.9 per cent in afternoon trade.

Reuters reported on Monday the Indian government had informally instructed traders to stay away from Malaysian palm oil. Indian traders are instead buying Indonesian crude palm oil at a premium of US$10 tonne over Malaysian prices.

India's foreign ministry said on Thursday the palm curbs were not country specific but that "for any commercial trading, the status of relationship between any two countries" is something a business would consider.

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