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Varadkar says Ireland will vote against Mercosur deal unless Brazil protects Amazon

He also labelled President Bolsonaro’s attacks on NGOs this week as “Orwellian”.

Image: Leah Farrell

LEO VARADKAR HAS threatened that Ireland will vote against the controversial Mercosur trade deal unless Brazil takes steps to protect the Amazon. 

It comes amid heightening international concern over the fires

Official figures show nearly 73,000 forest fires were recorded in Brazil in the first eight months of the year – the highest number for any year since 2013. Most were in the Amazon.

The extent of the area damaged by fires has yet to be determined, but smoke has choked Sao Paulo and several other Brazilian cities in the past week.

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

“President Bolsonaro’s efforts to blame the fires on environmental NGOs is Orwellian,” Varadkar’s statement said. 

He also criticised Bolsonaro’s remark that he would stay in the Paris climate change accord “for now” – saying it would raise antennas across Europe. 

The World Wildlife Fund has blamed this year’s sharp increase in fires on accelerating deforestation in the Amazon, which is seen as crucial to keeping climate change in check. 

“Historically, in this region, the use of fire is directly linked to deforestation as it is one of the techniques for tree clearing,” the WWF said in a statement. 

Bolsonaro, in his response, said “criminal action by those NGOs, to call attention against me, against the Brazilian government” following funding cuts may be the reason for the forest fires. 

“This is the war that we are facing,” Bolsonaro told reporters earlier this week. 

The fires were lit in strategic places. All the indications suggest they went there to film and start fires. That’s what I feel.

What is the Mercosur deal?

The EU and the South American trade bloc Mercosur sealed the hugely significant trade agreement in June, ending 20 years of talks over one of the world’s largest regional commercial accords.

The agreement came after two decades of negotiations between the EU and the countries of Mercosur – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – which had repeatedly stalled because of the issues that European farmers had over the effect the deal would have on domestic beef markets.

The deal however has been met with widespread criticism in Ireland, with the IFA and Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) among the groups condemning it. The groups say it will undermine beef markets as cheaper beef with low tariffs floods the EU from South America. 

Speaking in the wake of the deal being agreed Varadkar said that the government would conduct a full economic assessment of it and that the country could vote against it if the risks outweigh the benefits. 

Ireland couldn’t block the deal alone as votes on trade take place under the EU’s qualified majority system – but it could do so with the support of other countries. 

Varadkar added in his latest statement: “The Mercosur Deal is two years away from a vote on approval in Europe. During the course of these two years, we will monitor closely Brazil’s environmental actions.

“There is no way we can tell Irish and European farmers to use fewer pesticides, less fertilizer, embrace biodiversity and plant more of their land and expect them to do it, if we do not make trade deals contingent on decent environmental, labour and product standards. 

The political agreement on Mercosur does that. We’ll monitor closely if they mean it.

G7

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has described the wildfires were “an international crisis” and called on the globe’s most industrialised nations to address it at the French-hosted G7 summit this weekend.

“Our house is on fire. Literally. The Amazon, the lung of our planet which produces 20 percent of our oxygen is burning,” Macron said on Twitter. 

It is an international crisis. Members of the G7, let’s talk in two days about this emergency.
Includes reporting from © AFP 2019

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Daragh Brophy

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