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Bush in Brazil to Push for Ethanol Alliance


The United States and Brazil are forming an informal alliance to push the production of ethanol. VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson reports from Sao Paulo, the development and promotion of biofuels made from plants is the focus of President Bush's visit to Brazil.

In this bustling city - where the potential and problems of Latin America are on vivid display - cars are everywhere.

But here, when a customer lines up for fuel on a busy street corner, there is a good chance he or she will buy a blend of gasoline and ethanol made from sugar cane.

It is the norm in a country where eight out of every 10 new cars sold runs on fuel containing ethanol.

Together, the United States and Brazil produce about 75 percent of the world's ethanol. But Brazil is the largest exporter, and is the leader in biofuels research.

Paulo Soteri is director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington. He says Brazil welcomes the Bush administration's new focus on alternative fuels.

"This is a rare instance in which in cooperation between a developed country and a developing country, the developing country is the one that brings the best experience, has industry that is mature and has a lot to say," said Paulo Soteri.

Soteri says the Brazilians are pragmatic and know the growing interest in biofuels in the United States can only benefit their country. He says many here believe President Bush may be trying to promote a program that will prove popular with Americans, and divert attention - even slightly - from the Iraq war.

"In Brazil, there is a perception and an explanation about why this sudden interest in Brazilian ethanol [they say] it is because a very unpopular president at home needs a popular agenda, needs to get some issues that can change his image a little bit at home," he said.

There will be demonstrators in Sao Paulo during the president's visit, many of them from environmental groups, which fear small farmers will be exploited and protected land will be used for sugar cane cultivation.

Critics here speak of a potential ethanol OPEC. But U.S. officials downplay the notion, saying the goal is to develop ethanol technology so more countries can get involved in production in a renewable form of energy.

They say the U.S. Brazilian agreement that will be signed on this trip is but a first step. One thing it will not do is lift the current U.S. tariff on imported ethanol.

Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas urges the Bush administration to reconsider the tariff.

"U.S. energy security would be enhanced by working more collaboratively with Brazil to develop and promote ethanol resources," said Eric Farnsworth. "Of course, to be most effective the U.S. tariff on imported ethanol has to be reduced or eliminated."

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has said the tariff makes no sense, and has vowed to lodge a complaint during his talks with President Bush. President da Silva will make a reciprocal visit to the United States later this month and will become the first Latin American leader to visit Mr. Bush at presidential retreat, Camp David.