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Trade mission: Pawlenty sees cooperation with Brazil

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, seated at left, and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and their staffs meet Thursday. The meeting was in Santiago, Chile, as Pawlenty and about 40 other Minnesotans took part in a trade mission. U.S. Embassy/Santiago Photo

Brazil is one of Minnesota's major ethanol competitors, but Gov. Tim Pawlenty came away from a visit there saying the two also could cooperate.

At least they could work together on defining ethanol and other such fundamental issues, the governor said as he is wrapping up a weeklong South American trade mission with about 40 other Minnesotans.

"We acknowledge, of course, that we are and probably will be in the future competitors with them," the governor told Minnesota reporters Thursday via conference call from Chile, but even so the two countries could draw up a deal to research the next generation of ethanol.

In the United States, corn is the primary ingredient for the fuel. Brazil uses sugar, which has fueled speculation that Minnesota and North Dakota sugar beets could be a key part of a new form of ethanol now under development.

Pawlenty, Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson and Executive Director Tony Lorussa of the Minnesota Trade Office said their trip to Brazil and Chile provided business leaders with them a chance to talk with their counterparts in those two countries. Also, officials of Minnesota-based businesses like 3M and Cargill helped those on the trade mission to make local contacts and explain local needs and customs.

Pawlenty and others on the mission met with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet Thursday, and have met with many other federal and local officials during their trip.

Lorussa said that a week on the trade mission, which ends today, can produce more results than six months' work back home. He said South America is "a market that is underserved in terms of export opportunities."

Many of the Minnesota companies want to establish South American dealerships.

Hugoson, noting that this is Minnesota's first South American trade mission, said he was taken by Brazil's strong renewable fuel requirements.

"We have seen some ideas that they have in place that we can be looking at," Hugoson said.

The agriculture commissioner said there are opportunities to work with Brazil on renewable fuels. Pawlenty echoed the comments, but said that the United States needs to be careful to maintain rights to its scientific developments.

However, the governor said, countries such as Brazil and the United States need to work together to set ethanol standards so everyone is using the same definitions.

"Ethanol, I think, is going to be a global commodity in the not-to-distance future," Pawlenty said.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.