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Probability of 2015 haze repeat much lower this year: Asia Pulp and Paper official

SINGAPORE (From news reports) -- The probability of a repeat of the 2015 haze is "much lower" this year, the newly appointed managing director for corporate affairs and sustainability for Indonesia's largest pulp and paper group, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), said on Wednesday (July 12).

Former Singapore military general Bernard Tan - who is also Singapore country president for Sinar Mas, APP's parent company - outlined the preparations the company have taken at a press conference to announce his appointment.

"The haze issue is a matter of deep concern to all of us, in Singapore, in Indonesia, as well as throughout the region," he said.

He said APP has invested more than US$80 million since 2015 to strengthen its fire management strategies.

This includes exploring new technologies such as infra-red cameras and mini-satellites to better monitor the ground situation, training and equipping more than 2,700 firefighters (up from 1,500 in 2015), investing in large-scale helicopters to act as water-bombing aircraft to contain fires until ground teams arrive and the setting up of a fire audit team to review the company's and its suppliers' concessions.

Internal data from APP has shown that 2017 is expected to be a drier season compared to the previous year.

Mr Tan said he could not predict the haze outlook for the coming year. "Having seen the efforts, and the effects, of our programmes on the ground, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic about the haze this year."

Mr Tan's appointment comes a few months after the National Environment Agency said it was still investigating four Indonesian suppliers of the company which have been linked to the forest fires that caused severe haze in Singapore in 2015.

Major retailers in Singapore removed APP paper products from their shelves in 2015, after the Singapore Environment Council and the Consumers Association of Singapore asked retailers to declare they had not procured or used wood, paper and/or pulp materials from companies accused of causing fires in Indonesia.

NEA said at that time that information provided by APP had been "limited".

When asked about NEA's statement, Mr Tan said that while he was unable to comment on the issue as investigations were ongoing, engagement with authorities is continuing and APP has been cooperative.

He said the company looks at Singapore as an important market for its brand.

"The first step is to show tangible action that has been taken and to reassure Singaporeans that the production of goods is done in a responsible and sustainable way."

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