US-Brazil biofuels pact has broad significance

Mar 22, 2007 01:00 AM

by Eric Green

A new US-Brazil agreement on biofuels reassures small countries in Central America and the Caribbean that they can reduce their dependence on foreign oil, says the State Department’s top official for the Western Hemisphere.
Thomas Shannon, reviewing President Bush’s March 8-14 trip to Latin America, said the United States and Brazil are ready to enter into partnership with the region’s small economies on alternative energy production. Energy independent countries are not subjected to “price spikes” in the hydrocarbons industry, Shannon said at a March 20 forum sponsored by the Washington public policy group, the Inter-American Dialogue.

Shannon, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said all countries greatly benefit when their public sector budgets are not subject to the “degradations” that come from having to pay large energy bills. He stressed the importance of the “world knowing that the United States and Brazil are prepared to work together.” Such a message carries “a lot of weight and resonance” in the Americas, said Shannon.
A memorandum signed March 9 by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Brazil Foreign Minister Celso Amorim during Bush’s visit to Brazil pledged closer cooperation on researching production of energy from alternative sources. The accord also promotes alternative fuels in the region and develops industry-wide standards and codes that could lay the groundwork for a global biofuels market.

Biofuels are renewable energy products produced from organic matter. They include ethanol and methanol. Both the US and Brazilian presidents said they were committed to reaching a “successful result” in a new round of World Trade Organization negotiations, launched at a ministerial conference in Doha, Qatar, in November 2001. That commitment provides “symbolic value” that the United States and Brazil are prepared to work together on large international trade issues, Shannon said.
Shannon said the US president’s trip served to remind people in the United States of the “importance of the Americas.”

With so much attention focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, Shannon said Bush needed “to remind his own citizens of just how important our [own] neighbourhood is.” This was Bush’s eighth trip to Latin America in his six years in office, and no US president has travelled more to the region, said Shannon. The regular visits show the Bush administration’s engagement with Latin America, he said.
Shannon also listed a number of agreements the United States signed during the president’s visit to the other four nations on his trip -- Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico.

Shannon said the US delegation was impressed by Uruguay, which he called “one of the most complete democracies in the region that has a well-developed social history.” Uruguay is on the verge of making “some really dramatic moves to secure its future” by putting itself on the “modern cutting edge of agricultural and software development,” said Shannon. He praised Uruguay for being the country with the largest participation, per capita, in United Nations' peacekeeping operations around the world.
Bush’s visit to Colombia’s capital of Bogota was the first time a US president had been in that city since 1982. Shannon said that in Bogota, Bush highlighted the “success and tremendous advances” Colombia has made to restore security in the war-ravaged nation.

The Bush administration, said Shannon, is committed to winning approval from the US Congress for funding the next phase of a Colombian initiative called Plan Colombia. The plan involves combating, with US support, the country's illicit drug trade, boosting economic growth and strengthening democratic institutions.
Bush’s visit to a successful vegetable packing station run by small-scale farmers in the highlands of Guatemala showed how indigenous communities in that region can “link to national and international markets” and prosper from free-trade agreements, Shannon said. In Mexico, as he did elsewhere on the trip, Bush reinforced his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform that will protect US borders while boosting Latin American economies.

Foreign workers in the United States send between $ 45 bn and $ 50 bn per year in remittances to their home countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Shannon said. Such money transfers are becoming increasingly important to many of these countries, he said.
Shannon said an overriding issue for the countries visited by Bush, especially Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia, is the need for a regional security strategy that will allow those countries to protect themselves against organized crime and drug trafficking. Such a strategy, he said, will consolidate democratic institutions and promote long-term economic growth and investment in the region.

A fact sheet and press release on President Bush's trip can be found on the White House Web site.

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