Boris Johnson has issued a slapdown to Emmanuel Macron over the French president's threat to veto a EU trade deal with South American states including Brazil, claiming that concern over the Amazon fires was being used as an "excuse" to interfere with free trade.
Mr Macron has warned that he will block the EU-Mercosur deal - on the brink of completion after 20 years of talks - unless Brazil's far-right president Jair Bolsonaro shows he is taking seriously his duty to protect his country's environment as part of the global fight against climate change.
Arriving at the G7 summit hosted by Mr Macron in the French coastal resort town of Biarritz, Mr Johnson restated his horror at the thousands of wildfires currently wreaking devastation across swathes of the Brazilian Amazon.
But he stopped well short of supporting the president's proposal, also backed by Irish Taioseach Leo Varadkar, to withhold final EU approval for the free trade agreement until Mr Bolsonaro meets environmental commitments.
The Mercosur deal, also covering Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, is opposed by many in France because it would expose the country's farmers to competition from large quantities of cheap beef from South America.
Mr Johnson said that he would do “everything we possibly can” to help Brazil tackle the “tragedy” of rainforest destruction
But asked whether he would join other leaders in refusing to ratify the Mercosur deal, he said: "People will take any excuse at all to interfere with free trade and to frustrate trade deals, and I don’t want to see that.
"I do want to see the tragedy in Brazil tackled properly. That’s what we need to do and that’s what the UK stands ready to support at a global level, not just in Brazil."
Mr Bolsonaro has been accused of encouraging loggers to start fires as part of his drive to open up the Amazon region for development and of failing to direct enough resources to fight the blazes.
In a statement ahead of the G7 summit, a spokesperson for Macron said that the president believed his Brazilian counterpart had lied to him in assurances on climate made at the G20 in Japan earlier this year.
“In these conditions, France will oppose the Mercosur deal as it is,” the spokesperson added.
Greenpeace said that Mr Johnson should be ready to use trade levers to protect the forests.
The group's UK forests campaigner Juman Kubba said: “We’re in a climate emergency and right now the UK is in trade talks with Brazil. Boris Johnson has plenty of leverage to stop the destruction of the Amazon, starting with pausing all trade talks with Brazil until the fires are under control.
“Putting protection of the Amazon and its people at the heart of any future trade deal are vital steps if we’re to avert a complete disaster, not only for Brazil, but for the rest of the world.”
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