Indonesia and Malaysia on Sunday (Oct 11) agreed to have a new set of standards to produce environmentally sustainable palm oil, while the latter pledged to increase cooperation to help prevent land and forest fires in Indonesia.
These commitments were disclosed following a meeting between Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo at Bogor presidential palace, just outside Jakarta.
The meeting took place as a joint water-bombing operation by Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia kicked off on Sunday in South Sumatra, which is among the worst- hit provinces. It was the largest water-bombing mission ever carried out in an Indonesian province, with seven helicopters and three fixed- wing aircraft tackling the fires raging in two regencies - Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin.
During their meeting, Mr Joko and Datuk Seri Najib agreed to have a palm oil green economic zone to ensure a boost in the output of the edible oil that can be used for biofuel, while at the same time preventing illegal fires to clear land.
Officials said a joint task force will be established to accelerate the implementation of the points the two leaders agreed on, but no timeframe was given.
"We know that 85 per cent of global palm oil output comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. We will create a new global standard to produce sustainable palm oil," Mr Joko told reporters at a joint news conference after the meeting.
Mr Najib brought a team of experts with him to evaluate a canal- blocking system that is used in Indonesia to prevent fires on peatland.
"Malaysia is prepared to increase our assistance in dousing the fires. The areas affected are widespread, so certainly the challenges are very big," the Malaysian leader said.
Land and forest fires in Indonesia intensified in recent weeks, spawning thick haze that travelled to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
Jambi, located to the north of South Sumatra, is the second worst-hit province on the island. On Saturday night, Mr Joko had to cancel a trip to Jambi as the visibility level there dropped to 600m, below a required minimum of 1,000m for any plane to land.
On Friday, he said the authorities will aim to put out forest fires within weeks with the help of other countries. "The target is to put out the fires in about two weeks. The bigger scale of water-bombing operations means an accelerated process," Mr Joko said.
Meanwhile, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Panjaitan will summon by tomorrow the directors and owners of plantation companies that had fires on their concessions, to discuss plans to get them more involved in helping to tackle the annual problem.
During his visit to Ogan Komering Ilir on Friday, accompanied by The Straits Times and representatives from three local media outlets, Mr Luhut went deep into the forest to one of the hot spots. He stepped on peatland in an area that firefighters had just worked on and found smoke coming out from beneath.
"This is a big challenge... The fire is gone on the surface, but look at this. There is a lot of smoke because the fire is still burning inside. It takes an abundant amount of water to get rid of it completely," he said.