Countries 'overreact' by linking rainforest fires to approval EU-Mercosur pact: Brazil minister

Fire consumes an area of Rondonia state in Brazil (Eraldo Peres/AP)
Fire consumes an area of Rondonia state in Brazil (Eraldo Peres/AP)

Lisandra Paraguassu

Countries like Ireland and France “overreact” when they link the recent fires ravaging the Amazon rainforest to the final approval of a trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur bloc, Brazil Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina Dias told reporters on Monday.

At an event in São Paulo, she also said she hoped Brazil’s farm products do not suffer any trade embargos due to environmental issues.

Brazil’s Foreign Ministry on Monday ordered its ambassadors in Europe and other G7 countries not to take vacation for the next two weeks in order to coordinate a diplomatic response to global concerns over the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest, two sources with knowledge of the matter said.

The move comes after Brazil sent a circular to diplomats last week with talking-points about the country’s environmental record in a bid to help respond to public criticism.

The decision to suspend vacations for ambassadors in certain countries was taken by Minister of Foreign Affairs Ernesto Araújo after an emergency meeting with President Jair Bolsonaro on Sunday evening, the two sources said.

Some ambassadors were already on vacation and had to return to their posts, the sources said.

Embassies have also been told to post to their social media pages with information such as that forest fires happen every year in the Amazon and that the current fires are not out of control.

Amid a global chorus of concern and condemnation, Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro pledged in an address to the nation to mobilize the army to help combat the blazes, while his administration launched a diplomatic charm offensive to try to mend bridges overseas.

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Forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon, which accounts for more than half of the world’s largest rainforest, have surged in number by 83% this year, according to government data, destroying vast swathes of a vital bulwark against global climate change.

Images of fires raging in the Amazon broadcast around the globe sparked protests outside Brazilian embassies from Mexico City and Lima to London and Paris.

In the Cypriot capital Nicosia, a sign tied to the railings of Brazil’s diplomatic mission read: “The Amazon belongs to Earth not to the Brazilian president.”

Bolsonaro, who initially accused non-governmental organizations of setting the forest on fire without providing any evidence, said in a televised address he had authorized the use of troops to fight the fires and stop illegal deforestation in the Amazon.

But the former military officer attributed the scale of the fires to dryer-than-average weather and insisted on the need for economic development of the Amazon to improve the lives of its 20 million inhabitants.

Environmentalists have warned that his controversial plans for more agriculture and mining in the region will speed up deforestation.

“We have to give the population the opportunity to develop and my government is working for that, with zero tolerance for crime - and that is no different for the environment,” Bolsonaro said in his televised speech.

Polls show Brazilians overwhelmingly oppose his policy on the environment and as he spoke to the nation, residents in large cities across Brazil banged on pots and pans in a traditional Latin American form of protest.

The EU-Mercosur deal took 20 years to negotiate, but will not be officially ratified for at least another two years.

Reuters


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