Ethanol Update

President Bush is in Brazil, where is working on an ethanol agreement with that country:

The deal is still being negotiated, but the two leaders are expected to sign an accord Friday to develop standards to help turn ethanol into an internationally traded commodity, and to promote sugar cane-based ethanol production in Central America and the Caribbean to meet rising international demand.

Across Latin America’s largest nation, Brazilian media are billing the Bush-Silva meeting as a bid to create a new two-nation “OPEC of Ethanol,” despite efforts by Brazilian and American officials to downplay the label amid concerns that whatever emerges would be viewed as a price-fixing cartel.

It all sounds well and good, except for one part:

“For the Brazilians, the tariff has utmost priority,” said Cristoph Berg, an ethanol analyst with Germany’s F.O. Licht, a commodities research firm. “They will agree with developing biofuel economies around the world, but the first thing they will say is ‘We want to do away with that tariff.”‘

No one is expecting Bush to give ground on the tariff. The politically sensitive issue essentially subsidizes American corn growers who are rapidly ramping up ethanol production amid Washington’s encouragement of renewable biofuels to ease U.S. dependence on imported petroleum.

Without the repeal of the tariff, sugarcane-based ethanol will never be economical.

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