Oil palm’s average yield per hectare per year is around four tonnes of oil equivalent. The nearest competitor is rapeseed at only 0.79 tonnes per ha.

How to grow the European economy? It is a question that has dominated European politics since the banking crisis. Speeches have been made, and solutions proffered by (European leaders) Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel, Jean-Claude Juncker and many others. The prescriptions differ, but one theme is more or less constant: trade.

European leaders have travelled far and wide promoting European trade, and lavish welcomes are afforded in Rome, Paris, London to visiting delegations. This, of course, is natural: increasing European exports to the developing world will help to grow the economy at home.

However, one salient fact has been forgotten. Trade is a two-way street. Imports are also critical to a growing economy, and to a prospering relationship with new trading partners.

Imports lead to efficiencies in production, provide jobs throughout the supply chains and downstream industries, and stimulate market competition and innovation.

Sadly, the experience of many industries exporting to Europe is that the rhetoric on trade does not match the reality. Whether you speak to American food exporters, Argentine biodiesel manufacturers, African farmers, or the Malaysian palm oil producers that I represent, a similar depressing narrative emerges. Protectionism is the dominant force in Europe.

My own sector provides a telling illustration. Later this year, the European Union (EU) is expected to embark, once again, on a revision of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED). This follows the original directive from 2009, and a previous revision completed only last year.

The environmental group Transport & Environment (T&E) has recently “revealed” the “shocking truth” about palm oil’s use as a renewable energy fuel under RED rules in the EU.

Those who have examined the data behind the dramatic headlines would have learnt that the claims from T&E are neither shocking nor truthful.

The core of T&E’s complaint is that the use of palm oil for biodiesel is rising. This is true although the real increase is nowhere near the amount that T&E claims.

This is not “shocking”, or indeed surprising, to anyone with a passing knowledge of the market or the cost of European-produced oilseeds. Why? Because palm oil is simply a superior product. If you don’t believe me, then believe the data.

Oil palm’s average yield per hectare per year is around four tonnes of oil equivalent. The nearest competitor is rapeseed at only 0.79 tonnes/ha. Others are even further behind.

Oil palm uses only 47kg of fertiliser per tonne of oil (rapeseed uses 99kg; soybean uses 315kg). Palm oil also needs on average of just 2kg of pesticides to produce one tonne of oil, compared with 11kg for rapeseed and 29kg for soybean.

In plain English, oil palm produces vastly more oil, and uses less land, pesticides and fertiliser. In a world consumed by pressures on land and resources, those differences are enormous.

It is worth noting, at this point, that all palm oil imported into the EU as biodiesel must, by law under the Renewable Energy Directive, meet the strict environmental criteria laid down by the EU.

Malaysia is a world leader in palm oil sustainability — the government has protected more than 67 per cent of land in Malaysia as forests — thus continuing a commitment it first made at the United Nations Rio Summit in 1992.

This environmental protection is unmatched by any EU member state. However, palm oil is an imported product, and so, an obvious target for protectionism. The very fact that an imported fuel has seen increased usage leads to alarmist headlines despite clear gains in efficiency and cost.

This is not an experience unique to palm oil. Ask any non-EU food producer and they will tell a similar tale. Technology industries and audiovisual content providers have also expressed concerns about creeping EU protectionism — and that was last month alone.

Imports provide jobs, grow the economy and reduce prices for European consumers, just as many EU exports could be superior to domestically-produced goods elsewhere in the world.

The conclusion is simple: successful imports should be welcomed, not demonised, and those who choose instead to play the cheap card of protectionism should be roundly rejected.

Tan Sri Dr Yusof Basiron is chief executive officer of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council