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Merkel: Amazon deforestation threatens EU-Mercosur deal

August 21, 2020

The German chancellor has warned that environmental concerns have left her with "considerable doubts" over a planned EU trade deal with South American nations. Climate campaigners have stepped up the pressure on Berlin.

A firefighter puts out a blaze in the Amazon in Brazil (mago images/Agencia EFE/Getty Images/AFP/R. Florentino)
Image: Rogerio Florentino/imago images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has "considerable doubts" over whether to back the European Union's trade deal with the South American bloc Mercosur due to the worsening deforestation in the Amazon, her spokesman said on Friday. 

"Serious questions" have arisen due to the ongoing environmental concerns "as to whether the implementation of the agreement in the intended spirit would be guaranteed at present," Steffen Seibert told reporters.

Seibert said it was unlikely that the agreement could be finalized "given current developments and the terrible loss of forests," he added.

Read more: Amazon's widespread fire damage 'invisible to our eyes'

According to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) more than 9,000 square kilometers (3,474 square miles) of rainforest were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon region between August 2019 and July 2020 — an increase of around 35%.

That's despite reassurances from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro that his government is protecting the rainforest.

Merkel promised activists

Seibert's remarks come a day after Merkel met with youth climate activists in Berlin, including Greta Thunberg.

German climate campaigner Luisa Neubauer, who also attended the meeting, went as far as to say on Twitter that Merkel had vowed to "definitely not sign" the trade deal.

The pact, between the EU and the Mercosur states of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, would create the world's largest free-trade zone. 

France has already threatened to veto the deal due to the increase in fires and other deforestation activities in Brazil's section of the Amazon.

Read more: Freedom in Brazil gradually eroded

Legal hurdles to overcome

The agreement is currently undergoing legal revision, after which it must be approved and then ratified by EU member states.

Environmental groups have recently stepped up the pressure on Berlin and Paris to reject the pact.

The Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe warned that in its current form, the agreement would increase trade in commodities that are driving deforestation, including beef and soy.

The Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK), meanwhile, said the deal is an important step towards better economic cooperation between the two mega markets.

mm/rt (DPA, EPD)