02 June 2008

Brazil To Defend Biofuels At UN Summit In Rome

Phil Stewart
Planet Ark - 2/6/2008
Original URL

ROME - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Sunday he would seek to convince world leaders gathering in Rome this week that ethanol is not to blame for global food inflation threatening millions with hunger.

Brazil is the world's largest ethanol exporter and a pioneer in sugar-cane based biofuels, making it a target of critics who say ethanol is behind increases in world commodity prices.

Lula said the UN summit on food security which begins on Tuesday would give Latin America's biggest economy an opportunity to shape the debate about biofuels -- and hopefully win over some sceptics.

"This gathering that the (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) is promoting will be a great opportunity for Brazil," Lula told reporters in Rome ahead of the event.

"I'm convinced that we're at the beginning a debate. ... It's up to Brazil, a centre of excellence in ethanol production, to prove that it's fully possible to make ethanol output compatible with the production of food."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has set up his own task force to find answers to the food security crisis, is expected to hold private talks with Lula in Rome on Monday ahead of the June 3-5 summit.

The leaders of France, Spain, Japan, Argentina and some African nations are attending. Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also expected for his first trip to Western Europe as president.

Most of the anti-biofuel ire has been aimed at US production of maize-based ethanol which has diverted large quantities of that staple into fuel.

Critics say in Brazil, the production of ethanol is pushing cattle ranchers and farmers deeper into the Amazon rainforest. Lula rejected such claims and said countries in Europe and elsewhere had no right to make policy suggestions on the Amazon.

"No country in the world -- no country in the world -- has the moral and political authority to talk about environmental conservation and ethanol with us," he said, adding the European Union only had 0.3 percent of its original forest left.

"It (the Amazon) is ours and we're going to take care of her responsibly."

Lula is a longtime proponent of cane-based ethanol, saying it could help combat global warming and allow poor nations to offset soaring oil prices that he blamed on market speculation.

He said Brazil was proof that countries did not need to chose between food or fuel. With cane-based ethanol, Brazil has increased its production of biofuels at the same time that it raised its farming output.

"We Brazilians are convinced that the world might resist, but it is going to have to assume the responsibility of using other fuels," Lula said.

Henrietta Fore, administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), spoke favourably about Brazil's ethanol programme ahead of the UN summit.

"We have had very productive relations with Brazil on biofuels. ... Brazil has very effective sugar cane-based fuel programme which can be enormously helpful for the Caribbean," she told reporters on Sunday.

(Additional reporting by Robin Pomeroy in Rome, editing by Mary Gabriel)

© 2008 Reuters Limited

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