BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, JUNE 8TH 2007 (CUOPM) – St. Kitts and Nevis,
which closed its loss-making sugar industry in 2005, along with El
Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Haiti will be the initial focus of
the U.S.-Brazil Biofuels Partnership's outreach programme, United States
Secretary of State, the Hon. Condoleezza has announced.
With the help of the United States and Brazil, these nations could
become less dependent on oil imports by switching their economies to
biofuels, according to U.S. and Brazilian officials.
"We seek to promote the democratization of energy in the Americas,
increasing the number of energy suppliers, expanding the market and
reducing supply disruption," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
said in Panama City for the 37th General Assembly of the Organization of
American States (OAS).
The OAS issued a declaration June 5 that biofuels are "critical to
diversifying the use of energy" in the Western Hemisphere.
The US official noted that the United States and Brazil completed in
March what she described as a "groundbreaking" bilateral agreement on
"Our goal should be nothing less than to usher in a new era of
inter-American security in energy," Rice said.
The State Department's chief of energy-producer country affairs, Matthew
McManus, says "this initiative is about energy security of the countries
in the most oil-dependent region in our hemisphere. "We want to help
them help themselves," he told USINFO.
Under the partnership, the world's two largest ethanol producers are
committed to helping less-developed countries in the Western Hemisphere
promote production of biofuels from local crops. The partnership also
intends to advance the research in and development of more efficient
biofuel technologies and to work toward a greater convergence of
biofuels standards around the world.
More reliance on locally produced biofuels promises not only to bring
down the four countries' energy bills but also to reduce their
greenhouse gas emissions and spur rural economic and agricultural
development, McManus said.
He added that all four countries depend heavily on imported oil – in
some, oil makes up nearly 90 percent of their energy consumption – and
they produce electricity largely from petroleum, a practice that
increases their vulnerability to oil shocks. However, these four
countries also have relatively strong agricultural sectors that they
could convert partially to energy crops, he said.
"We hope they can grow a significant portion of energy they consume,"
McManus said. He said the focus of the initiative is production of
biofuels for local use.
Long growing seasons, tropical climate, high precipitation levels and
low labor and land costs favor biofuel production in all four countries.
All grow sugarcane, which Brazil has used to produce ethanol efficiently
and in large quantities. For Haiti, where the sugarcane industry is in
decline, biodiesel derived from castor bean and jatropha shrubs might be
a better option, according to a 2007 report funded by the InterAmerican
Development Bank (IDB).
The partnership, with support of the IDB and the OAS, is funding
feasibility studies to determine types of sugarcane best suited to local
conditions and examine other factors such as soil quality, environmental
impact and the potential for rural development.
"The initiative is going to be tailored to each country individually and
we have begun consultations with Brazil and each target country,"
Emerson Kloss of the Brazilian Embassy in Washington says the private
sector is a key to the success of the initiative in Central America.
Kloss is the head of the agriculture and biofuels section in the
embassy's economic department.
Brazilian companies already have invested in El Salvador and Jamaica,
but more investment is needed to make biofuel programs viable, Kloss
However, McManus said the governments of the four countries first need
to carry out regulatory and legal reforms necessary to lay the
groundwork for investment in and expansion of biofuel production and
infrastructure. According to the IDB report prepared by Garten Rothkopf,
a consulting firm, public education campaigns about benefits of biofuels
also are important if biofuel expansion is to succeed.
Kloss said, based on the Brazilian experience, the conversion from oil
to biofuels should not prove too costly for the four economies. But he
cautioned that overall cost estimates are premature because the outreach
initiative has just entered the information-gathering phase.
"We are trying to see what we can deliver," Kloss said.
Once the four countries achieve some degree of energy independence, the
partnership will consider expanding the initiative to other nations,
according to the U.S. and Brazilian officials.
"But we want to get the work in the initial partner countries under way
first," McManus said.
Check for earlier Pacific Biofuel posts: http://pacbiofuel.blogspot.com/