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July 26, 2010

Critics slam EU-Brazil African biofuel plan

by Andrew Willis


EU and Brazilian leaders are set to announce a new "triangular co-operation" initiative, under which they will aim to work together in some of the world's poorest countries, but NGOs say the duo's scheme is self-centred and will simply make conditions worse.

At a bilateral summit in Brasilia on 14 July, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and Brazilian President Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva were expected to agree to co-operate on a range of different projects in Portuguese speaking parts of Africa, Haiti and East Timor in the coming years.

The development of renewable energy is likely to be a central theme, and a first step will see the EU and Brazil sign an agreement with Mozambique to develop bioelectricity and biofuels projects, EU sources have indicated.

Brazilian companies are world leaders in the production of biofuels and are looking to expand their operations both internally and abroad, while the EU is looking to increase its biofuel use at home in order to meet its target of sourcing 20 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020.

But as EU and Brazilian officials prepare to start studies on how best to develop bioethanol, biodiesel and bioelectricity projects in Mozambique – already a leading African producer of biofuels – environmental groups say the initiative will simply serve to displace people from their land and exacerbate food shortages.

"In a country that suffers persistent hunger, using millions of hectares of agricultural land to grow crops to power European cars is immoral and perverse," said Adrian Bebb, a biofuels expert with Friends of the Earth. "European biofuels targets are what is driving this global expansion," he added. "Instead of doing deals to grab more land in the South, the EU should be scrapping its biofuel policy."

NGOs such as ActionAid have also criticised the EU's biofuel target which demands that 10 percent of transport fuel come from renewable energy by 2020.

Studies suggest that a third of the land sold or acquired in Africa, some five million hectares or an area greater than the size of Denmark, is intended for fuel crops.

The gains for both sides as a result of the new deal are clear however. By teaming up with Brazil in Africa, the EU stands to create a new and cheaper supply of biofuel, while Brazilian companies could make considerable savings on EU import tariffs.

Biofuel produced in Brazil is currently subject to high tariffs when entering the EU, while duties on African-produced biofuels are much lower.

Reports suggest that Cosan and Copersucar are among the Brazilian ethanol producers that stand to gain the most from setting up new production bases in Africa.

As part of his trip to Brazil, Mr Van Rompuy is set to visit a Cosan production line and meet with senior company officials.

Business Week

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