India may curb Malaysian imports to punish Mahathir for UN comments – here’s what happened

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Indian premier Narendra Modi in an earlier meeting. India is reportedly considering banning palm oil imports from Malaysia, in response to a comment Mahathir made on Jammu and Kashmir.

Is a trade war looming for Malaysia?

India, Malaysia’s 10th largest trading partner, is reportedly considering restricting imports from the country to punish its prime minister for comments made at the United Nations General Assembly speech last month.

On Friday (Oct 11), Reuters reported exclusively that India was considering restricting imports of some products from the South-east Asian nation, including palm oil.

Citing unnamed government and industry sources, Reuters said the Indian government was “looking for ways to limit palm oil imports and may place restrictions on other goods from the country”.

The source of India’s fury was a comment made by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Jammu and Kashmir – a Himalayan region at the centre of dispute between India and Pakistan – at the UN event on September 27.

Mahathir had said that “despite UN resolution on Jammu and Kashmir, the country has been invaded and occupied”.

“There may be reasons for this action but it is still wrong. The problem must be solved by peaceful means. India should work with Pakistan to resolve this problem. Ignoring the UN would lead to other forms of disregard for the UN and the Rule of Law,” he added.

The 94-year-old premier later published the same comments on his Twitter account.

Mahathir: Avoid trade war

So far, it seems that India has not made a firm decision on any possible curbs to trade with Malaysia.

Mahathir was quoted by Reuters as saying that he had not received official word from India of any trade ban.

“That is only reported, but we have not received anything official,” he reportedly said.

In a report on Sunday, state news agency Bernama also quoted the PM as saying that both countries needed to avoid any cause for trade war as it would not be beneficial for both economies.

“We will study the impact of the action taken by India. They are exporting goods to Malaysia too. It’s not just one-way trade, it’s two-way trade,” Bernama quoted him as saying.

The government had no plan to give an immediate response to Reuters’ report, he added.

India is the second-largest buyer of Malaysia’s palm oil, with 150,000 tonnes imported monthly, Bernama reported.

A ban would likely result in India substituting Malaysian palm oil with edible oils from Indonesia, Argentina and Ukraine, Reuters reported its source as saying.

Twitter storm

Mahathir’s comments on Jammu and Kashmir had earlier also sparked angry reactions on social media, with Indian social media users calling for a boycott on all things Malaysian.

After the #BoycottMalaysia became one of Twitter’s top trending hashtags in the two countries, Malaysians argued back with calls for their fellow countrymen to also boycott India.

Mahathir addressed the social media reactions on October 8, saying that India’s PM Narendra Modi had not given him any feedback about his UN speech. “I had told (Prime Minister of India) Narendra Modi to contact me if he is unhappy or dissatisfied,” he was quoted by New Straits Times (NST) as saying.

Calling the comments “mild criticisms of India”, Mahathir reportedly said that he had also brought up the Jammu and Kashmir issue to Modi when they met in Russia before the UN event.

“We don’t give criticism to side with anyone, but we call for both parties to discuss, use arbitration or go to the court of law, not to resort to violence,” he added.

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