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Obama, Silva Discuss Biofuels and US-Brazil Ties

posted on January 30, 2009


BRASILIA, Brazil: (AP) - President Barack Obama and Brazil's president had their first leader-to-leader conversation Monday, spending 25 minutes discussing issues ranging from biofuels to the global financial crisis.

The spokesman for President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Obama called Silva to stress that he wants to create partnerships to "strengthen economic relations between the countries."

Obama has asked his economic team to coordinate joint measures with Brazil before the countries meet at the Group of Twenty nations summit in April in London to address the meltdown, said spokesman Marcelo Baumbach.

The conversation touched on biofuels, a key issue for Brazil because Latin America's largest nation is the world's largest exporter of ethanol and wants the U.S. to lift a 53 cents per gallon import tariff on the alternative to gasoline.

Baumbach did not say whether the tariff was discussed, but said Obama acknowledged that Brazil has been a pioneer on the biofuels front with its ethanol made from sugarcane much more cheaply than the same fuel produced from corn in the U.S.

Obama told Silva that the U.S. and Brazil must continue ethanol cooperation efforts. But he has not issued a clear position on Brazilian ethanol import tariffs. In the past, he has suggested that he opposes eliminating them.

"As it relates to our country's drive toward energy independence, it does not serve our national and economic security to replace imported oil with Brazilian ethanol," Obama said on the Senate floor in 2007 when then-President George W. Bush was striking a biofuels cooperation agreement with Silva.

Baumbach said Silva told Obama the two countries also should work together on promoting world peace and preserving environment.

Obama invited Silva to visit Washington following a trip the Brazilian president is scheduled to make to New York in March to meet with investors. And Silva extended an invite for Obama to visit Brazil later this year. No plans were finalized, Baumbach said.

The Bush administration tried to reach out to Silva's center-left government, which is seen as a South American counterweight to strident leftist leaders in Bolivia and Venezuela.

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Tags: Barack Obama biofuels Brazil ethanol news presidents renewable fuels South America