Amazon fires spark European rift at G7 over Mercosur trade deal | News | DW | 24.08.2019

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Amazon fires spark European rift at G7 over Mercosur trade deal

French president and G7 summit host Emmanuel Macron's threat to ditch a trade deal over the fires in Brazil met with immediate resistance from fellow EU member states, including Germany and the UK.

The mass wildfires in Brazil's Amazon divided European nations on Saturday, with political leaders sparring over whether or not to shelve a trade deal with Brazil and other South American nations over the raging fires.

French President Emmanuel Macron, the host of the G7 summit in Biarritz, southern France, took an early lead in opposing the EU-Mercosur trade deal over what he considers Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's failure to adequately address the fires and fight climate change.

Macron has threatened to veto the deal unless Brazil takes more decisive action to rein in the blazes. Irish leader Leo Varadkar has also expressed support for ditching the deal, which would remove trade barriers between the European member states and Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay.

Bolsonaro has in turn accused Macron of having a "colonialist mentality" and of using the fires for political points-scoring.

EU nations take sides over Mercosur deal

Ahead of the G7 summit's first day on Saturday, Macron had called for the attendees to hold emergency talks on the fires, and he touched on the topic again in a national address on Saturday as political leaders arrived in Biarritz for the summit.

The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, backed Macron's position in a press conference during the G7 meeting.

The European Union "stands by the EU-Mercosur agreement," he said, albeit adding: "It is hard to imagine a harmonious process of ratification by the European countries as long as the Brazilian government allows for the destruction of the green lungs of planet earth."

Read more: Amazon fires: Can international pressure help put them out?

But Germany, a G7 member, has said that while it is concerned about the Amazon fires, scratching the trade deal would not be the "appropriate response" to what is happening in Brazil.

Fellow G7 member Great Britain lined up with Germany in wanting to keep the deal moving forward. Prime Minister Boris Johnson criticized Macron, saying, "There are all sorts of people who will take any excuse at all to interfere with trade and to frustrate trade deals, and I don't want to see that."

"I think I'd be reluctant to do anything, at this very difficult time for global free trade, to cancel another trade deal," Johnson said.

A satellite image shows smoke rising from a wildfire in the Amazon river basin

Fires have continued to rage in the Amazon, including in the state of Rondonia, as this satellite image shows

The UK is currently scheduled to leave the EU at the end of October, meaning the country's involvement in a future EU-Mercosur deal remains uncertain.

Spain, which has close ties to South America, also said that the trade deal should proceed. On Saturday, Spain's government issued a statement seen by AFP saying it does not support blocking the deal. It is "precisely through applying the environmental clauses of the deal that we can advance" the fight against climate change, the statement said.

It added that the country "has been at the forefront of the last effort to sign the EU-Mercosur agreement that will open huge opportunities for the two regional blocs."

World's largest free trade area on the edge?

All EU member states and the European Parliament, as well as the Mercosur nations, need to ratify the deal for it to enter into force.

The deal, which took 20 years to negotiate, would create the largest free trade area in the world.

The fires in Brazil's Amazon this year are the highest number of any year since 2013. Official figures show there have been 78,383 in 2019, with new blazes having broken out over the past few days.

Experts have attributed the fires to deforestation caused by the clearing of land during the dry summer months to prepare for crops and grazing.

cmb/msh (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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