Lula, Yudhoyono Pledge Biofuel Cooperation

JAKARTA ~ Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged cooperation on biofuels during talks here at the weekend in a bid to take advantage of surging oil prices.

Lula and Yudhoyono signed off on an agreement to share knowledge on biofuel technology after meeting at Jakarta’s presidential palace.

The Brazilian leader called spiraling global commodity prices a “great opportunity” for developing countries such as Indonesia and Brazil, both of which are major producers of biofuel.

“The developing countries that have the characteristics that Indonesia and Brazil have should not analyze this crisis as only a problem. We have to see this moment as a great opportunity,” Lula said.

“We have land; we have sunlight; we have water resources; we have technology; and, thanks to God, the poor of the world have started to eat more, three meals a day, so they will demand more food production.”

The two leaders signed memoranda of understanding that would see the countries exchange experts and students to share knowledge on biofuels. Yudhoyono will make an official visit to Brazil in November.

“In the energy sector, both countries are cooperating in the field of alternative energy. Brazil has succeeded in developing bio-ethanol and Indonesia can learn from Brazil to develop bio-ethanol,” Yudhoyono said.

Yudhoyono also called for a broadening of countries represented on the United Nations Security Council, throwing his backing behind permanent membership for the South American power.

“Brazil is included in those countries that have been mentioned as having the potential to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Some also say Indonesia should be a permanent member of the UN Security Council because it has the highest Muslim population,” he said.

The biofuel cooperation agreement comes amid criticism of the role of biofuels – which are mostly made from food crops – in pushing up global food prices and promoting deforestation in both countries.

The leftist Lula used the announcement with Yudhoyono to criticize rich nations for unfairly laying the blame on developing countries for high commodity prices and environmental destruction.

“First of all, it’s not ethanol or biofuel production that is responsible for the rise in the food prices. Secondly, it’s not only due to China that the oil prices are rising,” Lula said.

“Thirdly, people will soon discover that reaching a good agreement at the Doha round of the [World Trade Organisation] could solve the food issue, giving more incentives to the poor countries to improve their food production (by opening up market access),” he said.

“The only thing that is unacceptable is to ask to the poor people of the world not to eat more. Ask us to produce more and we’ll do it because we have the competence to do so.”

Brazil is the world’s largest sugarcane ethanol producer with a long-established program mandating biofuel content in automotive fuel. The country argues its massive production does not divert land from food crops.

Indonesia recently overtook Malaysia as the world’s top producer of palm oil, which is a key feedstock for biodiesel.

The government is reportedly considering a regulation forcing manufacturers to use 2.5 percent biodiesel, but faces criticism over massive deforestation in equatorial forests to make way for plantations.

Lula’s Indonesian visit was the final leg on an Asian tour that took him to Vietnam and East Timor after going to Japan for the Group of Eight industrialized nations summit.

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