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Foreign policy may help with energy crisis

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Even as the world forms itself into large trading blocks, and the CARICOM region moves forward with the establishment of the Single Market and Economy, St. Vincent and the Grenadines continues to aggressively pursue bilateral relations with new partners.

This is to be commended. The governing Unity Labour Party calls its approach to foreign policy, “bold and pragmatic”. Our foreign policy has seen us venturing into new areas of the world and establishing or formalizing relations with non-traditional partners.{{more}}

We recently opened an embassy in Cuba, and information is that Cuba’s Ambassador designate to St. Vincent and the Grenadines will arrive here shortly. Last year, diplomatic relations were established with Ethiopia, and a “no-visa requirement” agreement was signed.

The success of the “bold and pragmatic” approach is evident in many ways, one of the most obvious being the growing membership of the coalition of the willing – those inclined to assist with the construction of our country’s international airport. The list includes: Mexico, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Venezuela and Canada.

And now, coming out of the visit of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the Prime Minister of Malaysia to our shores, we have another country joining the coalition, bringing the dream of our international airport one step closer to being a reality.

In the joint statement issued by Prime Ministers Gonsalves and Badawi on Tuesday, both countries pledged to encourage cooperation in economic, scientific, technical and other fields.

One project of great significance, which will be pursued, is a bio-diesel project. There is no better time for it. Our hydroelectric plants, at maximum capacity, can only supply us with approximately 30 percent of our electrical power needs, and then only in the rainy season. The experts say that wind and solar energy plants are too expensive to provide us with power on a commercial basis.

But even if we experience a bit of relief at our electricity generating plants at certain times of the year, there is no relief at any time for our motorists or public transport passengers who must fork out the extra cash when prices go up, or walk.

Bio-diesel is an alternative fuel produced from vegetable oil. It contains no petroleum, but can be blended at any level with petroleum diesel to create a biodiesel blend. Bio-diesel can be used in diesel engines with little or no modifications to the engine. Biodiesel is biodegradable, nontoxic, and essentially free of sulphur and aromatics.

In the project being proposed, small refineries will have to be set up to produce the bio-diesel from the jethropa plant. This a plant that is quick-growing and can be propagated through tissue-culture. It grows in all kinds of soils and climates, and needs little care, as during its lifetime each plant only needs about one litre of water. Each acre yields about 1000 plants, but for the project to be feasible, thousands of acres must be planted. This is acreage we just do not have here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

In his address to Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves mentioned that at least one other Caricom country will be involved in the project with us. We understand that this country most likely will be Guyana, one of the few member states of Caricom with sufficient land to dedicate to a project like this.

Many countries around the world besides Malaysia use bio-diesel. These include India and Brazil. The latter has been producing and using bio-diesel for the last 40 years, and last year their President said his country would become the world’s largest producer of renewable energy. Brazil generates 43.8 percent of its power from renewable energy sources, including hydroelectricity, ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol and biodiesel are already making significant contributions to Brazil’s trade surplus, boosting the country’s economy and reducing its reliance on foreign oil.

Consumer acceptance of ethanol fuel in Brazil has grown tremendously in the last few years because of the rising price of gasoline. Many Brazilians now drive ethanol-only cars, or have converted their gasoline-powered vehicles to diesel vehicles so that they can use bio-diesel.

We see the bio-diesel/jethropa project as just one of the many benefits to be gained from our bold pragmatic foreign policy. As the world changes we cannot roll over and play dead. We must find new ways to cope.

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