By AOIFE WHITE 07.05.07, 12:06 PM ET
Biofuels will help reduce the global gap between rich and poor nations
by making many developing countries energy exporters, Brazilian
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Thursday.
Europe and the United States are planning to use more of the
less-polluting fuel made from energy crops such as sugarcane or
oilseed in an effort to lessen their reliance on imported oil and
reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
Silva said the biofuel boom offered an opportunity to countries in
Africa, Central America and the Caribbean to claw their way out of
poverty and reduce global conflict.
"Twenty countries (currently) produce energy for approximately 200
countries," he said. "With the adoption of biofuels, more than 100
countries will produce energy, making the access to it much more
He told an international biofuels conference in Brussels that Europe
should not hold these countries back with high import tariffs - like
those on Brazilian ethanol - that are not charged on imported oil and
European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said earlier that
Europe should be open to importing a large part of its biofuels, as it
was unlikely the EU could hit a target to replace 10 percent of
transport fuel with biofuels by 2020 without stepping up foreign
"I'm not going to maintain a rigid view that European biofuels are
best for Europe," he told reporters. "We should certainly not
contemplate favoring EU production of biofuels with a weak carbon
performance if we can import cheaper, cleaner, biofuels."
Swedish Trade Minister Sten Tolgfors went further, calling for an end
to ethanol tariffs.
Mandelson said any changes would need to be negotiated as part of a
wider World Trade Organization deal - currently stalled - but could
also be part of free trade agreements the EU plans to strike with
Brazil and others.
His support for wider imports dents hopes that a biofuel bonanza could
see European farmers win extra subsidies. Bright yellow rapeseed is
already widespread across Europe because of generous government
subsidies to help turn it into biodiesel - which is more polluting
than sugarcane-based ethanol.
Mandelson said the EU could not allow the switch to biofuels to become
"an environmentally unsustainable stampede in the developing world."
"Europeans won't pay a premium for biofuels if the ethanol in their
car is produced unsustainably by systematically burning fields after
harvests," he said. "Or if it comes at the expense of rainforests."
The EU wants to set sustainability standards to encourage producers to
use more durable production methods - rules that would apply to both
importers and European producers.
EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said only biofuels meeting
these standards would be counted toward the 10 percent target and
could receive government support such as tax breaks. He said the EU
aimed to work with trade partners to avoid these new rules creating
"unnecessary obstacles" that could be seen as an unfair trade barrier.
A United Nations report warned Wednesday that high commodity prices
blamed on increasing demand for biofuels could last throughout the
decade as more corn, wheat, rapeseed and sugar is turned into fuel.
But Silva dismissed worries that the biofuel boom would see
agricultural land abandon food production for energy cash crops,
saying the real problem was poverty that he said was caused by
agricultural subsidies rich nations pay their own farmers.
According to the U.N. outlook, annual corn-based ethanol output in the
United States is expected to double between 2006 and 2016. In the
European Union the amount of oilseeds, mainly rapeseed, used for
biofuels is set to grow from just over 10 million tons to 21 million
tons over the same period.
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