Brazil must protect Amazon rainforest, or I will seek to block EU Mercosur deal - Varadkar

Leo Varadkar. Picture: Damien Eagers
Leo Varadkar. Picture: Damien Eagers
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Ireland will seek to block the Mercosur trade deal between the EU and South American countries unless Brazil protects the Amazon rainforest, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned.

Mr Varadkar also attacked controversial Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for his claim environmental groups were starting fires in the forest to make him look bad.

The Taoiseach branded the unsubstantiated allegations as "Orwellian".

The Government has come under massive pressure from struggling beef farmers over fears the Mercosur deal will flood the European market with cheap South American products.

Its announcement came on top of escalating concern over the threat posed by Brexit among farmers already reeling from low beef prices.

EU Commissioner Phil Hogan was forced to defend his involvement in the Mercosur deal this week amid renewed accusations it sounds the "death knell" for the country's beef farmers.

The Government's position on Mercosur has been that it will analyse the deal to assess its overall impact on various sectors of the economy before deciding whether or not to ratify it.

Now Mr Varadkar has said Ireland would not back the deal if Brazil did not protect 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," the Taoiseach said.

Burning issue: A tract of the Amazon rainforest smoulders and burns as it is cleared by loggers and farmers in Amazonas state, Brazil. Photo: Reuters
Burning issue: A tract of the Amazon rainforest smoulders and burns as it is cleared by loggers and farmers in Amazonas state, Brazil. Photo: Reuters

Opposition politicians here have put pressure on the Government to act amid the latest report from Brazil's official monitoring agency that there has been a huge increase in the number of wildfires this year.

Brazil's National Institute for Space Research reported there have been 74,155 fires this year, an 84pc jump on the same period in 2018.

On Wednesday, Mr Bolsonaro suggested environmental groups were behind the fires in the forest.

It is seen as vital for drawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the battle against climate change.

A satellite image shows several fires burning in the Brazilian Amazon forest (Nasa/AP)
A satellite image shows several fires burning in the Brazilian Amazon forest (Nasa/AP)

Mr Bolsonaro said: "Maybe - I am not affirming it - these [NGO people] are carrying out some criminal actions to draw attention against me, against the government of Brazil."

Mr Varadkar last night said he was very concerned at the record levels of rainforest destruction. "President Bolsonaro's efforts to blame the fires on environmental NGOs is Orwellian," he said. He also said comments by the Brazilian leader saying his country would stay in the Paris Accords on Climate Change "for now" would "raise antennas across Europe".

Mr Varadkar said the vote on Mercosur was two years away and Brazil's environmental actions would be monitored in that time.

Pesticides

He said Irish and European farmers couldn't be told to embrace stringent rules including using less pesticides and fertiliser "if we don't make trade deals contingent on decent environmental, labour and product standard".

He said the political agreement on Mercosur "does that" but will have to be monitored closely.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin called on Mr Varadkar and other European leaders to ensure the destruction of the rainforest was on the agenda of the next EU summit.

He said the Brazilian government shouldn't be rewarded through trade if it continued to allow its destruction.

Irish Independent