Private governance programs are now an important source of regulation in global value chains – particularly in context of North–South trade. But can these programs play a similar role in the value chains feeding into fast-growing emerging markets like China and India? Most scholars doing research on the topic draw a pessimistic picture. They argue that the scope conditions for private sustainability governance are not yet present in these markets. Our analysis of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – a leading non-state certification program – in China and India partially confirms this view. At the same time, however, we find that emerging markets are not a unified category. We observe that sustainable palm oil is beginning to gain momentum in China, whereas uptake in India remains much weaker. We trace this back to a number of key market conditions, which we show are more favorable in China. In addition, our analysis highlights the role of the Chinese state in creating awareness of and shaping firms’ interests in sustainable palm oil.