Why 'haze tax' won't work

Why 'haze tax' won't work
Marina Bay Sands and bumboat on a hazy day, taken on Dec 30, 2013.

Palm oil is present in a variety of products sold here, ranging from consumables to household items, and it would require massive logistics and manpower resources to impose a "haze tax" on all these items ("Impose 'haze tax' on palm oil products" by Dr Jerry Tan; March 25).

If Singapore resorts to punitive taxes to tackle the haze problem, it defeats the whole idea of social and corporate responsibilities that plantation companies are supposed to uphold.

The alternative would be to boycott these products, but that is also not feasible.

Singapore's domestic market is small compared to those of other countries like China, India and the United States. If these markets do not pressure manufacturers to find alternatives to palm oil, any measures we take would have a limited effect on palm oil producers.

Also, companies are under no obligation to state whether or not their products contain palm oil. This ingredient may be listed as "vegetable oil", making the imposition of punitive measures difficult.

For our part, we need to have frequent dialogues with our neighbours on the haze problem. Without the mechanism for ASEAN cooperation in combating forest fires, there is not much Singapore can do.

We can only hope that Indonesia will ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution as soon as possible.

Francis Cheng

This article was published on April 2 in The Straits Times.

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