JAKARTA (Reuters) – Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd (APRIL) can resume forestry operations at its Indonesian pulp and paper subsidiary, government officials said on Tuesday, amid a dispute over environmental rules.
APRIL halted forestry operations at PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) and said thousands of jobs were at risk after the Indonesian environment ministry rejected its long-term work plan. One of Asia’s biggest pulp and paper firms, APRIL has been in talks with the government over the re-zoning of roughly half of its 480,000 hectares of plantation areas that sit on peatland.
“(RAPP) was never forbidden from operating,” Environment and Forestry Ministry Secretary General Bambang Hendroyono told reporters, referring to discussions on the company’s work plans that had been under review since May. “That was just their interpretation.”
Hendryono added that the company has until October 30 to resubmit its 10-year work plan, including plans for peatland areas. Speaking at the same event on Tuesday, APRIL Corporate Affairs Director Agung Laksamana said the ministry had clarified the matter in a meeting.
Concerned about the forest fires that afflict Indonesia each year, environment minister Siti Nurbaya has said it is very important that forestry companies operating in peatland areas comply with the rules as peatland areas “burn easily”.
“I invite RAPP to become a compliant company, to obey the rules of this country, like the other forestry companies,” Nurbaya said in a ministry statement.
The sanctions that were handed down were intended to prevent RAPP from “planting in protected peatland forest areas”, she added. “There should have been no problem.”
APRIL said that RAPP “obeys the applicable laws and regulations of the Republic of Indonesia” and it supported government efforts to prevent fires and was willing to work with the government to revise its long-term plans. Criticism of palm oil plantation owners and companies like APRIL intensified after catastrophic 2015 forest fires blanketed the region in choking smog.
According to its president, APRIL operates a strict ‘no-burn’ policy. Forest fires in Brazil and Indonesia contributed to a record loss in global tree cover in 2016, equivalent to the size of New Zealand, an independent forest monitoring network said on Monday.
Indonesia’s environment ministry announced on Sunday that stricter controls on burning and better coordination had resulted in a 71.5 percent reduction in areas affected by forest fires in 2017 compared with 2016, when there had also been a significant reduction.