Emmanuel Macron says he will block EU trade deal with Brazil over Amazon forest fires

Far-right president Bolsonaro's response to fires criticised around the world 

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
Friday 23 August 2019 14:14 BST
Bolsonaro speaks about wildfires in Brazil

France will block an EU trade deal with Brazil and its neighbours over the country’s handling of fires in the Amazon rainforest, a spokesperson for Emmanuel Macron has said.

Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has been criticised around the world for his response to the fires, which scientists say are man-made and campaigners have linked to businesses looking to exploit the land.

“The president can only conclude President Bolsonaro lied to him at the Osaka summit,” a spokesperson for the Elysee told the Reuters news agency.

“In these conditions, France will oppose the Mercosur deal as it is.”

Conservationists say Mr Bolsonaro, who was elected on a pro-business platform, has encouraged the setting of fires as part of his pro-business programme. Brazil’s space research centre, Inpe, has detected 72,843 fires in the Amazon so far this year – an 84 per cent rise compared to 2018, when Mr Bolsonaro was elected. The president has said his country cannot fight the fires.

As the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon is a vital store of carbon and a key weapon in the fight against climate change.

The EU-Mercosur trade deal reached agreement in principle earlier this year after 20 years of negotiation. Mercrosur is a trade bloc that includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, with Venezuela also a member but suspended since 2016.

If the deal is ratified it would be the largest trade deal struck by both the EU and Mercosur in terms of population.

Earlier today Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s prime minister, also indicated that Ireland could try and block the EU trade deal.

“There is no way that Ireland will vote for the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement if Brazil does not honor its environmental commitments,” Mr Varadkar said.

Emmanuel Macron has led the charge against the Brazilian government (REUTERS)

Both Ireland and France would need support from other member states to form a blocking minority to veto the deal.

Mr Macron on Thursday called for the issue to be discussed at the G7 summit, branding it an international emergency.

But the Brazilian president criticised him, stating: “I regret that Macron seeks to make personal political gains in an internal matter for Brazil and other Amazonian countries.

“The sensationalist tone he used does nothing to solve the problem.”

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro (REUTERS)

The Brazilian leader also said Mr Macron’s suggested G7 talks betrayed a “colonialist mindset”.

“The French President’s suggestion that Amazonian issues be discussed at the G7 without the participation of the countries of the region evokes a misplaced colonialist mindset in the 21st century,” he said.

By contrast Mr Bolsonaro received praise from Donald Trump, who announced that he had offered to help tackle the rainforest fires.

“Just spoke with President Jair Bolsonaro,” the US president tweeted on Friday. “Our future Trade prospects are very exciting and our relationship is strong, perhaps stronger than ever before. I told him if the United States can help with the Amazon Rainforest fires, we stand ready to assist!”

Boris Johnson stopped short of saying he wouldn’t sign a trade deal with Brazil, telling reporters in a visit to the south-west: “I passionately share the view of Emmanuel Macron, and one of the things I am going to be raising at the G7 is the horrific loss of habitats and species around the world.

“We are going through an extinction of diversity, of biodiversity across the planet, we are down to about 15,000 lions left in the wild, perhaps 3,000 tigers in India, the population of elephants has declined at about 8% a year.

“What we in the UK want to do is lead the world now in setting targets for the retention, the maintenance, and the improvement of habitat, and stop this terrible loss of biodiversity, so set targets for keeping the species that we inherited on this planet.”

Indigenous groups living within the Amazon have tried desperately to save the land. Many blame illegal ranchers for setting the fires and conservation groups believe the crisis is man made. They also believe the Bolsonaro government has tacitly encouraged people to set the fires in order to clear the land for economic development.

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