A Response to C. Ford Runge by Mairon G. Bastos Lima

by Melbourne Journal of International Law

I thank Professor C. Ford Runge for his comment on my article and agree with his analysis that places biofuels within a larger picture. From the Brazilian perspective, such heavy subsidies used by the United States and the European Union constitute the very “Gordian knot” of the negotiations in the Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organization. Naturally, that does not apply only to Brazil, but to all developing countries whose agricultural exports are heavily taxed. Ethanol from Brazil is just the newest product to face that barrier — currently circumvented, in limited amounts, through the Caribbean Basin Initiative, an agreement whereby Caribbean countries, who receive Brazilian ethanol, can export it into the U.S. duty free.

There is much debate and controversy regarding who would benefit from further world trade liberalization. However, even at current levels (of market openness), biofuels are expanding fast enough to consume many resources, take up substantive amounts of land, and raise social and environmental issues that we had better not abandon to market forces only. As Professor Runge correctly points out, a multilateral governance framework engaged on such issues seems necessary. The environmental and socio-economic effects of expanded biofuel production (e.g. on forests, climate, global food security) cannot be tackled by individual countries alone. Both the market forces and the political impetus for producing more biofuels are also very much internationalized (the EU-Africa energy partnership, whereby African countries are being incentivized by Europe to produce biofuels, is an illustrative case) (see Charles et al, 2009). If governments the world over are investing taxpayers resources and policy efforts into the expansion of biofuels, they should well engage in cooperative efforts to address biofuels’ sustainability issues, too.

But Europe and North America must realize that large-scale biofuel production and its global trade (and their impacts) may well expand without them. The European Union is currently relying on its own unilateral sustainability criteria for biofuels. But South-South trade is increasing and, for instance, Asia is becoming an ever larger importer of South American agricultural goods — biofuels included. The multi-polar world of today requires that efforts to govern for sustainability also be multilateral. The alternatives are many, from the creation of a World Environment Organization capable of securing that, as mentioned, to the development of a biofuel governance framework within the scope of the UN-Energy interagency mechanism or of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Each alternative would naturally have advantages and difficulties to overcome, and these would need to be carefully thought out (see Bastos Lima and Gupta, 2009). In the end, how we will deal with these increasing issues of biofuel expansion, and whether that will prompt us to better collaboration on other energy and agricultural issues, remains to be seen.

Bastos Lima, M.G. and Gupta, J. (2009). Biofuel and Global Change: The Need for a Multilateral Governance Framework. Paper presented at the Amsterdam Conference on the International Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change. ‘Earth System Governance: People, Places and the Planet’.

Charles, M.B., Ryan, R., Oloruntoba, R., Heidt, T. von der, Ryan, N. (2009). ‘The EU-Africa Energy Partnership: Towards a mutually beneficial transport energy alliance?’ Energy Policy vol. 37: 5546-56.


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