YAOUNDE - Cameroon says it is banning and destroying cheap vegetable oil imported from Indonesia and Malaysia to protect its home industries. The central African nation says thousands of workers may lose their jobs if the country continues to import cheaper vegetable oil.
Orilius Mbui, an official of Cameroon's agro-industrial company the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC), said the jobs of about 16,000 employees in six oil palm estates are threatened as a result of what he calls the unhealthy competition domestically produced refined vegetable oil faces.
He said after examining the situation, Cameroon's prime minister ordered that imported vegetable oil must sell at about $3.00 per liter, which is about a $1.00 per liter more than domestic oil. If it does not sell at that higher price it will be seized.
"There were certain norms that were set indicating that oil that is imported into this country must be at the value price of 1,500 francs (about $3.00) and that oil must be in specific containers and it must have vitamin A. But of recent we have noticed that oil has been imported at prices lower," Mbui said.
Huge appetite for oil
Cameroon has a huge appetite for vegetable oil. Its own companies produce 32,000 liters every month, according to the Cameroon Association of Vegetable Oil Producers and an additional 20,000 liters per month has been imported, mainly from Malaysia and Indonesia.
Jacques Kemleu Tchabgou, secretary general of Cameroon's association of oil producers said many people were rushing for the imported vegetable oil because it is so much cheaper than locally produced oil.
"We cannot accept that. We have four factories which have closed now and a lot of factories are working in only 50 percent of their capacities. You cannot produce when you cannot sell," said Tchabgou.
Economist Dr. Ariel Ngnitedem of the University of Yaounde One disagrees with the ban and says Cameroon should instead have made its vegetable oil more competitive and of good quality. He said the ban was hastily conceived and may anger the World Trade Organization (WTO), of which Cameroon is a member.
"We cannot close our market to the rest of the world. That will be against the WTO regulations. That can allow for other countries to refuse our products too," said Ngnitedem.
Cameroon already has a 40 percent unemployment rate. Government officials say the decision to ban the imports was made in order to save thousands of jobs.