Malaysia plans to introduce "orangutan diplomacy" in its relations with major palm oil-importing countries, offering the animals as trading gifts in an effort to allay concerns about the environmental effects of growing the oil palm from which the commodity is derived.

However the plan, likened to China's "panda diplomacy" by the country's commodities minister, has prompted concerns among wildlife advocacy groups, which called on the government to consider alternative measures to protect the orangutan's habitat and improve the sustainable production of palm oil, which is used in everything from lipstick to pizza.

The proposal comes after the European Union last year approved an import ban on commodities linked to deforestation, which could hurt palm oil.