Biodiesel trade wars turns into domestic battles

16 March 2010 16:22  [Source: ICIS news]

AMSTERDAM (ICIS news)--Now that the biodiesel trade wars between Argentina, the EU and US have settled, the industries will have to focus on winning the hearts and minds of consumers in their respective home regions, sources said on Tuesday.

After a year of the EU biodiesel industry using tariffs and threats of tariffs to fight off sellers from Argentina and the US, which at one stage sent up to 80% of its biodiesel across the Atlantic, growing domestic mandates around the globe will force the big players to concentrate on home markets, said Gene Gebolys, CEO of Boston-based logistics company World Energy.

“Mandates in Europe will continue to grow and in the US they continue to grow, and Argentina's mandate will keep more of its material at home. Trade routes are becoming less important,” Gebolys said at the World Biofuels Markets conference in Amsterdam.

European mandates have called for biofuels to replace 5% of road fuels by the end of 2010. The US just enacted a mandate for 1bn gal/year of biodiesel by 2012, and Argentina passed legislation last year that called for biodiesel to replace 5% of traditional diesel supply in 2010.

However a threat to the industry still existed in the form of the re-emergence of the food versus fuel debate, in which critics charge that increasing amounts of grain used to supply the biofuels markets has driven up the price of food.

Kevin McGeeney, CEO of Switzerland-based biofuels trading house StarSupply Renewables, reminded conference attendees of the scene the company saw in 2008, when commodity prices rose steadily and protestors gathered at biofuels industry conferences to accuse refiners of causing world hunger.

“The biofuels industry did not win the food versus fuel debate,” McGeeney said.

“Prices fell, that's all. I guarantee you that if the price difference between soybean oil and gas oil gets too high; the public will not stand for it. There will be push back from oil companies and the public if this number rises,” he added.

That push back could threaten the very mandates the industry fought for for years and have finally realised, McGeeney said. To counter that, the biodiesel industry as a whole has to engage the global media to promote the environmental and national security credentials of domestically produced fuels, McGeeney added.

How best to massage the media has been a constant theme among biodiesel producers, however not everyone at the conference thought it was the best way to counter criticism.

Brian Young, a consultant with Element Strategic in Seattle, said better sound bytes may be a necessary tactic, but not a winning strategy.

“Day to day, in the trenches, it's a PR play. But if it's only PR, it's going to be a big fight,” Young said.

Khoo Hock Aun, CEO of Cosmo Biofuels Group in Malaysia, agreed, and said the best way to win the food versus fuel debate was to prove the fuel's sustainability.

“PR won't win the sustainability argument. You have to prove it,” he said.

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By: Ben Lefebvre
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