Brazil backslide on Amazon protection puts Mercosur deal at risk, Varadkar

Published by Shamim Malekmian on

August 23rd, 2019

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that Ireland will vote against the EU-Mercosur trade deal if Brazil’s backsliding on the conservation of the Amazon rainforest continues.

Fires are continuing to burn the Amazon rainforest this week at the fastest pace in years according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). Many of the fires are caused by the clearing of land for agricultural expansion.

About half of this year’s fires began in July, the same month that saw a new record set for the highest Amazonian deforestation rate in a single month.

In a statement yesterday evening, Mr Varadkar said that he was troubled by the “record levels of destruction of Amazonian forests by fire” and rebuked Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for a failure to preserve the Amazon.

“There is no way that Ireland will vote for the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement if Brazil does not honour its environmental commitments,” Mr Varadkar said.

The Mercosur deal between the EU and Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay outlines a wide range of rules and regulations, from tariffs to sustainable development.

The Mercosur countries’ biggest exports to Europe include agricultural foodstuffs such as soya, coffee, meat and other animal products.

Since taking office in January this year, the right-wing Bolsonaro government has pushed for economic activities in the Amazon such as mining and agri-expansion.

Mr Bolsonaro has said that environmental regulations are hindering economic development and his government has cut funding and staff at state environmental agencies.

The former director of INPE was fired earlier this month after a very public face-off with Mr Bolsonaro who questioned the validity of the Institute’s data highlighting an increase in deforestation since he took office.

On Wednesday, Mr Bolsonaro accused environmental NGOs of starting the Amazon fires to retaliate after the State pulled their funding, albeit he did not present any evidence to back up his claims. When pressed for evidence, Mr Bolsonaro said that it was just his “feeling” that it was happening.

“President Bolsonaro’s efforts to blame the fires on environmental NGOs is Orwellian,” Mr Varadkar said. “His statement that Brazil will stay in the Paris accords on Climate Change ‘for now’ will raise antennas across Europe,” he added.

Fires started across Brazil since 13 August 2019. Graphic: Global Forest Watch

Protecting Irish Farmers

Mr Varadkar’s warnings follows calls from opposition parties for the rejection of the EU-Mercosur pact as things currently stand. The Green Party and Sinn Féin both said that unless the safety of the Amazon basin and Irish farmers is ensured, the Government must not sign the trade deal.

Calling on the State to refrain from ratifying the deal, Green Party MEP Ciarán Cuffe said the negative implications of the agreement for Irish farmers paired with ongoing Amazon fires “casts serious doubts on the deal”.

Mr Cuffe continued that there is a “clear link between deforestation and pressure to increase land availability” for agricultural and animal production for financial gain.

“Meanwhile, back in Ireland, we’re seeing low prices being paid to Irish farmers, and the risk of their produce being undercut by South American imports,” he said.

Earlier this week, the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) president, Joe Healy, described the EU-Mercosur deal as “a sell-out of the EU values”.  

He urged the State to veto a deal that would see the import of thousands of tonnes of beef from Brazil and other Mercosur countries into the EU market, undermining the livelihood of Irish farmers.

Alongside cattle ranches, large parts of the rainforest are been cleared for soybean production, the majority of which is used as animal feed, including in Ireland.

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Categories: News

Shamim Malekmian

Shamim is a Senior Reporter at The Green News and a contributing writer to the Irish Examiner, Cork Evening Echo and the Dublin Inquirer.