Europe must open its doors to imports of biofuels from developing countries in order to reduce its oil dependency and cut carbon emissions, said EU leaders at a high-level conference in Brussels attended by Brazilian President Luis Inacio 'Lula' da Silva.

Europe will fail to meet its objective to increase the share of biofuels to 10% of overall transport fuel consumption without a major rise in imports from countries like Brazil, warned EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson at an international conference organised by the Commission on 5 July.

The conference was attended by Brazilian President Lula Da Silva and followed hard on the heels of the first ever EU-Brazil summit, held one day before (EurActiv 5/07/07).

"Europe should be open to accepting that we will import a large part of our biofuel resources," said Mandelson, adding: "We should certainly not contemplate favouring EU production of biofuels with a weak carbon performance if we can import cheaper, cleaner, biofuels. Resource nationalism doesn't serve us particularly well in other areas of energy policy - biofuels are no different."

Currently, biofuel such as ethanol are classified as agricultural goods and enjoy relatively high tariff protection in Europe in order to support the development of the biofuel market and protect European farmers against foreign competition.

However, since there is not enough European land available to produce sufficient amounts of fuel and feed, the EU will have to further open up its doors to imports from third countries, said a number of EU Commissioners speaking at the conference. In the Commission's view, this can be achieved either by means of a multilateral agreement, at the World Trade Organisation, or through bilateral deals, such as the new strategic partnership launched with Brazil on 4 July.

Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Brazilian President Lula Da Silva underlined that further market opening in Europe would also benefit developing countries – currently the main producers of biofuel crops, such as sugar cane and corn. 

However, the move could face opposition from some EU members such as France, which are strongly resisting calls from developing countries and the US, to slash EU farm tariffs in order to achieve a deal in global trade talks at the WTO.