Our Biofuels Partnership
By Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, president of Brazil
Friday, March 30, 2007; Page A17
Tomorrow I will visit with President Bush at Camp David to follow up on
conversations we had a few weeks ago in Sao Paulo. We have taken an
important first step toward committing our countries to developing clean
and renewable energy sources that will ensure the prosperity of our
peoples while protecting the environment.
We are launching a partnership to enhance the role of ethanol fuel in
our countries' energy mixes while moving to make biodiesel fuel more
widely available. Simultaneously, we are creating opportunities to
expand these programs onto the global stage.
George W. Bush and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva tour a biofuels plant in
Sao Paulo earlier this month. (By Pablo Martinez Monsivais -- Associated
This initiative builds on what Brazil has achieved in biofuels. Thirty
years of research and innovation have made my country self-sufficient in
oil by replacing 40 percent of our gasoline consumption with ethanol.
"Flex-fuel" engines, which run on any combination of biofuels, have
transformed ethanol into a secure and reliable energy source. We look
forward to similar technical breakthroughs as we further develop our
domestic biodiesel market.
However, ethanol and biodiesel are more than an answer to our dangerous
"addiction" to fossil fuels. We aim to set in motion a reassessment of
the global strategy to protect our environment. As well as being
renewable, biofuels in Brazil are clean and highly competitive; ethanol
made from sugar cane leaves no residues, as everything is recycled and
the byproducts of its production are used to enrich the soil. Equally
important, sugar cane sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, helping to
reduce greenhouse gases.
These alternative energy sources help reduce global dependence on
relatively few countries for energy supplies. The agreement between
Brazil and the United States provides for diversifying the production of
biofuels through triangular alliances with third countries. This
networking can include oil-producing countries interested in blending
ethanol or biodiesel into their own fossil-fuel stocks. This is a recipe
for increasing incomes, creating jobs and alleviating poverty among the
many developing countries where biomass crops are abundant.
For these proposals to gain traction, foundations for a worldwide market
in these fuels must be put in place. Brazil and the United States joined
India, China, South Africa and the European Union in launching the
International Forum on Biofuels this month. Its goal is to ensure
conditions for ethanol, and later biodiesel, to become globally marketed
commodities. This will be achieved only if trade in biofuels is not
hindered by protectionist policies. After all, the subsidies provided
under America's corn-based ethanol program have spurred an increase in
U.S. cereal prices of about 80 percent. This hurts meat and soy
processors worldwide and threatens global food security.
The success of Brazil's ethanol program has also helped to dispel
certain myths. Ethanol is not a direct menace to tropical rain forests,
as Amazonian soil is highly unsuitable for growing sugar cane. Moreover,
under Brazil's unwavering commitment to environmental protection,
deforestation has fallen by 52 percent over the past few years.
Nor does sugar cane threaten food production. Less than a fifth of the
340 million hectares of arable land in Brazil is used for crops. Only 1
percent, or 3 million hectares, is used to harvest cane for ethanol. By
contrast, 200 million hectares are pasture, where the production of cane
is beginning to expand. The real challenge in providing food security
lies in overcoming the poverty of those who regularly go hungry. That is
why we have launched a campaign, in Brazil and abroad, to guarantee to
every man, woman and child the minimum income required to buy three
square meals a day.
Yes, working conditions for sugar cane harvesters must be improved, and
we are fully engaged in doing that. However, this issue hardly justifies
harsh criticism of an economic activity that employs and offers hope to
so many people in Brazil and throughout the world.
Agriculture provides not just foodstuffs but also a way of life for
millions of small-scale farmers globally. The spread of sugar cane, soy
and other oleaginous crops for biofuels will ensure that needy farming
families have the financial means to feed themselves. A significant
increase in the value of agricultural produce and in trade income could
easily be achieved if developing countries that might cultivate these
biomass crops did not face unfair competition from farmers who benefit
from vast subsidies in rich countries.
We all know that the secret to energy security lies in diversifying our
energy sources. Brazil and the United States represent more than 70
percent of world ethanol output. We are sharing markets and technical
expertise to produce cleaner, more efficient and renewable energy.
Our two countries have always put their faith in the entrepreneurship of
their citizens. Today, we have an opportunity to bolster confidence in
our capabilities to respond to new challenges and global threats. By
investing in biofuels, we can also join with developing countries in
spreading peace, prosperity and the promise of a better future.
The writer is president of Brazil.