Amazon fires: France and Ireland threaten to block EU trade deal over rainforest destruction

The EU agreement with four South American countries took 20 years to negotiate and has yet to be ratified

epa07788148 French ecologist activists and environmental protection groups shout slogans against Brazilian President Bolsonaro, as they gather in a protest in front of the Brazilian embassy in Paris, France, 23 August 2019. Protesters claim Bolsonaro is responsible of the deforestation that causes huge fires in the Amazonian forest.  EPA/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON
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France and Ireland have threatened to block an EU trade deal with South America unless Brazil does more to tackle fires in the Amazon rainforest.

French President Emmanuel Macron said his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro had lied to him by playing down concerns about climate change at the G20 summit in June and that Paris would oppose the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement.

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

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

The Brazilian leader appeared to bow down to international pressure on Friday, saying he may mobilise the army to help combat fires sweeping through the  rainforest.

The EU deal was reached in June with Mercosur countries Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay after 20 years of negotiations but has yet to be ratified.

Mr Macron would have to form a blocking minority with other EU states in order to kill the deal.

Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar expressed Dublin’s concerns over the fires, which have affected vast tracts of the Amazon rainforest.

"There is no way that Ireland will vote for the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement if Brazil does not honour its environmental commitments," he said in a statement.

The Amazon rainforest is often called the "lungs of the world" because it has over 400 million trees and dense vegetation,which produce a fifth of the globe’s oxygen by absorbing millions of tons of carbon every year. Brazil is home to 60 per cent of the Amazon, which is vital to countering global warming.

Mr Bolsonaro has been accused by environmentalists of relaxing protections for the world's largest tropical rainforest. They said farmers clearing land were responsible for the uptick in fires.

The Brazilian leader has blamed non-governmental organisations – who he said had "set fire" to the forest – without offering any evidence.

“I regret that President Macron seeks to take advantage of what is a domestic Brazilian issue and of other Amazonian countries for personal political gain,” he wrote on Twitter.

“The French president’s suggestion that Amazonian matters be discussed at the G7 without the involvement of countries of the region recalls the colonialist mindset that is unacceptable in the 21st century.”

Demonstrations against Mr Bolsonaro's perceived inaction took place outside Brazilian embassies and consulates in Europe on Friday, including in Paris, Barcelona and London.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed Mr Macron’s call to add the fires to the G7 agenda, describing the fires as an “acute emergency”.

However, Ms Merkel did not comment on Friday on the Mercosur deal, which is being described as the biggest EU trade deal to date and would help the South American countries export farm products such as beef and sugar to the bloc.

The EU Commission on Friday warned against blocking the deal, which it said could be used to put pressure on Brazil.

"This is the best way to create legally binding commitments with countries that we want to respect our environmental standards," said Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva.

"The best tool that we have is the EU-Mercosur agreement."