The UN FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN) estimate that exports of Agarwood and Oud Oil from Singapore total around US$1.2 billion annually, some analysts put this figure higher at around US$3 billion. What is certain is that Singapore and Hong Kong are the most important trading posts in Asia for one of the world’s rarest and most valuable natural commodities.
Uncertainty on how much of this rare and mystical product arrives in Singapore, and in many cases where it actually comes from, has caused international concern. It has been estimated that somewhere between 70% and 90% of the global trade in Agarwood is illegal and in many cases a root cause of deforestation. Since the year 2000 harvesting of wild Agarwood trees and export of its products has been banned by CITES (the Convention on International Trade on Wild Fauna and Flora) as an endangered species. Monitoring of the trade by TRAFFIC (The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network) has led some analysts to predict there is less than two years of wild supplies of Agarwood left; yet this largely illegal industry carries on unabated.
Currently the world’s largest estimated importer and distributer of Oud is the UAE, where Oud is an everyday necessity in the culture and used regularly in Arabic homes. Recognising the importance of ensuring that supplies to the Gulf could be both sustainable and legal today, and working to ensure continued sustainable supplies of this ever diminishing natural resource for the future, the UAE Ambassador to Singapore his Excellency Mohamed A. Al Qubaisi decided it was time he learned more about how this essential element of everyday Middle East life was obtained.
Singapore based Sustainable Asset Management, specialist advisors and analysts to the plantation and Agarwood industry, were honoured to assist and recommended the ambassador visit industry leading sites in Thailand: tree nurseries, sustainable plantations, distilleries, processing plant and retail shops, selecting an innovative company in the sector Asia Plantation Capital (APC) as his focus so he could see first-hand the complete soil to oil process.
Mark Wills, Managing Director of Sustainable Asset Management, accompanied the Ambassador and his family on his fact finding mission to Thailand where the group spent three days touring the nurseries, plantations, distilleries and finally a retail site of l’Atelier Du Bois the brand owned by APC. Along the way the ambassador not only witnessed the ground-breaking technologies developed and researched by APC but also listened first hand to the managers’ detailed explanations of their advanced processes from soil to oil, resulting in a 100% pure and organic high quality sustainable Oud oil with full CITES certification.
During the trip Ambassador Mohamed A. Al Qubaisi kindly shared some insights into the Agarwood relationship with consumers in the Gulf where apparently you will rarely find a house in any GCC country without either Oud or Agarwood being used; these products remain as popular as ever and demand is even growing.
The Ambassador explained that Oud oil is more important than Agarwood chips and how for consumers “the priority is the smell and the durability of the fragrance note” people “know very little of its origins, except for the fact that it is rare and very expensive and prices keep increasing”. This rarity brings with it additional problems of local traders who will often try and sell sub-standard product and pass this off as high quality. “There are people who look to copy the product, especially chips and make alternatives which are not well regarded”. Apparently local buyers are also generally unaware of the global protection afforded to Agarwood and how the trade is controlled with CITES certificates, his Excellency Mohamed A. Al Qubaisi was enthusiastic “to get a better understanding of where Oud comes from and how it is made, which I now know. I would be very happy to help citizens in the Gulf understand the importance of sustainable supplies to safeguard an important aspect of our culture for generations to come.”
Roger Hargreaves Chairman of APC Thailand stated “We are honoured that his Excellency Mohamed A. Al Qubaisi the Singapore UAE Ambassador chose our company and plantations to visit and gain a wider understanding of the source and fast growing industry behind the production of sustainable Oud oil which is driven in part by the demand in the Gulf and wider Middle East. Additionally now that Oud has become a mainstream fragrance with almost weekly launches by the global fragrance mega brands of a new Oud fragrance, it is vital that responsible countries like the UAE take a keen interest to ensure legal and sustainable on-going supplies for their citizens. APC were one of the first plantation companies to secure a license to import and distribute Oud in the UAE and are now entering into exclusive supply agreements with responsible UAE based importers to secure the long term supply of sustainable and natural Oud into the region, with fully legal CITES certified products and supplies. We were equally honoured that the ambassador considered the quality of fragrance and consistency of our oil to be extremely high quality, rarely encountered from plantation produced Oud oils versus wild oil.”
Ambassador Mohamed A. Al Qubaisi concluded “I now have a greater understanding of its origins and the process to bring this to market, something that most people in the GCC countries will not know. Clearly the trees are in decline and that will have an effect on something that is a significant part of our culture. I am very happy that APC is providing a long term sustainable solution to help supply the market with a high quality and consistent product and that will help preserve an important part of our culture for generations to come.”