Malaysia and India seek to repair the sour ties that affect palm trade

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia and India will work to improve ties that deteriorated under the former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and severely affected palm oil trade between countries, officials from both nations said Sunday.

India is the world's largest importer of palm oil, but its purchases from Malaysia, the second largest palm exporter behind Indonesia, declined dramatically in recent months after Mahathir's attacks on India's policies.

Malaysia swore before a new prime minister on Sunday after last week's resignation by the open Mahathir, 94, after a power battle in his coalition government.

Wee Ka Siong, a legislator who hoped to get a ministerial position, said that repairing ties is a priority because Malaysian palm oil producers have been suffering due to the effective ban on purchases in India.

Can we renegotiate? It's for my country and for my people, Wee told Reuters. As we are a new government, let the prime minister, the new government, take care of it. We treasure friendship with India.

An Indian official with knowledge of the matter said that New Delhi also wishes to improve bilateral relations, including trade in palm oil, provided that Malaysia remains outside the internal affairs of India.

India could also invite the new Prime Minister of Malaysia, Muhyiddin Yassin , for a visit this year, the official said on condition of anonymity.

India put refined palm oil and palmolein on its list of restricted items on January 8, a measure that sources say was in response to Mahathir's criticism of his actions in Kashmir and a new citizenship law.

Palm shipments from Malaysia to India in January fell 85% from the previous year to 46,876 tons, the lowest since 2011.

India accounted for almost a quarter of Malaysia's total palm oil exports last year and has been Malaysia's largest buyer of palm oil for five years.

India's restrictions on imports from Malaysia interrupted global trade flows of edible oil, with Indonesia diverting supplies to India, Malaysia rushing to take advantage of the markets left by Indonesia and India by replacing palm with other oils.