Missed Energy Opportunity

A Missed Energy Opportunity

A renewed U.S. relationship with Brazil could fundamentally reorient hemispheric relations, but change requires boldness.

Later today, President Bush will arrive in Sao Paolo, Brazil for the first leg of his five-country tour of Latin America. That arrival will be marked by good news and bad news for those hoping for a new chapter in U.S. relations with the Americas.

The good news—the president has chosen an opportune place to begin a long-overdue effort to reinvigorate U.S. relations with our hemispheric neighbors. Six years of neglect and mismanagement have created a daunting task, but one that can no longer be ignored. Although the work extends far beyond U.S.-Brazil relations, finding new common ground with Brazil could go a long way toward reorienting hemispheric relations for the better.

The bad news—the president arrives in Brazil with an agenda long on rhetoric and short on the boldness needed to create the dynamic relationship with Brazil that could hold such promise. The hallmark of the president’s stay in Brazil is likely to be an ethanol cooperation agreement with Brazilian President Inancio Lula de Silva that will fall well short of what is needed.

The president seems unwilling to make the changes at home that would truly reinvigorate a renewable fuels-based relationship with Brazil and the Americas.

If the president were serious about revolutionizing relations with the Americas—particularly on renewable fuels—he would declare his intention to phase out the 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol that is holding back the rapid development of ethanol as a replacement fuel in the United States and hampering the creation of a global market. Instead of taking such bold action, the president has insisted that reducing the tariff is not on the table and is focused on necessary, but insufficient, steps such as agreeing to work with the Brazilians on standards and codes to govern ethanol production.

He would also invest more in the research and development of next generation biofuel technology and increase the number of gas stations that offer biofuels and the flex fuel vehicles that consume them. And he would certainly take the steps necessary to ensure that U.S. farm policy embodies sensible incentives for promoting sustainable renewable energy production.

There is a significant convergence of core interests between the United States and Brazil lying just below the surface of the agreement President Bush appears poised to reach with President Lula. To most effectively promote U.S. interests at home and throughout the Americas, the president needs to grasp that opportunity before it becomes a missed opportunity.

For more on the president’s trip to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico, please see the Center for American Progress report:

For more on the progressive approach to reorienting U.S. farm policy to better promote sustainable renewable energy production, see the CAP report:

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Dan Restrepo

Senior Fellow