CNN creator, Ted Turner, says he has a secret ingredient for rescuing suspended global trade talks – the renewable energy sources known as biofuels.
Turner told a public forum at the World Trade Organization yesterday, September 25, that biofuels – liquid fuels made from plants and trees, including biodiesel for trucks and generators and ethanol for cars and cooking – can do more than fight global scourges like pollution and global warming.
They can also solve the bitter dispute that scuttled the commerce body’s trade liberalization talks two months ago by providing rich countries a means of keeping their farmers in business, instead of doggedly subsidizing products that can be farmed more cheaply in poor nations, such as cotton, sugar beets or cane and rice.
"If agriculture were always going to be the same, then the question of subsidies would be a problem without a solution," Turner said at the WTO’s Geneva headquarters. "But agriculture is changing."
Turner suggested that farmers in rich countries could redirect food production to fuel production or change the crops they produce for ones that can make biofuels. Poor countries can also make biofuels to curb their needs for costly petroleum imports.
"This is a huge opportunity for farmers who can grow fuel," Turner said. "Demand is so great that even though Brazil produces almost a quarter of the world’s sugar, it still struggles to meet its own domestic demand for ethanol."
The Doha round of trade talks was launched in Qatar’s capital in 2001 with the aim of boosting the global economy by lowering trade barriers across all economic sectors, with a particular focus on helping developing countries by boosting their export growth.
The talks came to a screeching halt in July, largely over the unwillingness of rich countries like the United States, the 25-nation European Union and Japan to offer deeper cuts in subsidies paid to farmers or ease access to their agricultural markets for foreign goods.
Recent meetings in Brazil and Australia have only confirmed the deep divisions among the organization’s 149 members.
"I would have preferred to stand in front of you under different, more encouraging circumstances since it is always easier to find your way to the door with the lights on," WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy told the forum of academics, activists and government officials. "We missed an important opportunity to advance our plea for a stronger multilateral trading system," Lamy said.
Turner talked of the promising opportunities in corn, sugar beets and sugar cane that can be converted into ethanol, and palm, soy and rapeseed oil that can be transferred into biodiesel.
These sources, he said, would provide poor countries with local jobs through substituting the fuels for oil imports.
However, Turner rejected a question later at a media conference concerning how biofuel production can be safeguarded against new forms of subsidies. It is unclear what protection poor countries would have under WTO rules for protecting biofuel producers from competitors in rich countries aided by government subsidies.
The WTO has traditionally steered clear of trade issues linked to energy.
Last week, former US President Bill Clinton announced a US$ 1 billion investment fund for renewable energy in the developing world. Clinton said the new Green Fund would focus on reducing dependence on fossil fuels, creating jobs, reducing pollution, and helping to reduce global warming while getting returns on capital invested.