Brazil's Vice President Mourao, Environment Minister Salles and EU Ambassador to Brazil Ybanez visit the Jungle War Instruction Center in Manaus
Brazil’s Vice President Hamilton Mourao, Brazil’s Environment Minister Ricardo Salles and EU Ambassador to Brazil Ignacio Ybanez visit the Jungle War Instruction Center in Manaus, Brazil, November 4, 2020. Picture taken November 4, 2020. Bruno Batista/Brazilian Vice Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

December 8, 2020

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) -Until Brazil makes a political commitment to curb deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, the trade deal between the European Union and South America’s Mercosur trade bloc will not advance toward ratification in Europe, the EU’s envoy in Brasilia said.

Ambassador Ignacio Ybañez said in an interview late on Friday that talks were underway to add a commitment to the treaty concluded last year, and that Brazil’s government is aware it is needed to save two decades of negotiations.

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest surged to a 12-year high in 2020, according to official government data, with destruction soaring since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro took office and weakened environmental enforcement.

The resulting opposition to the EU-Mercosur accord in Europe has led the EU’s executive commission to hold off presenting the deal to a council of leaders from the 28 member states before it can be submitted to the European Parliament.

“Right now there are no conditions to do that, but we are working to obtain clear commitments by Brazil that will restore trust,” Ybañez told Reuters.

Brazil’s Ministry of Defense said on Monday that deforestation in the Amazon fell by 45% in November from the same month last year, the third decline in a row. From August to November, the accumulated reduction was 19%, it said, citing data from the national space research agency Inpe.

The EU embassy will open a conference in Brasilia on Tuesday to promote the treaty and explain its sustainable development chapter, which deals with Amazon deforestation and adherence to the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Ybañez said Brazil has taken positive steps such as the creation of an Amazon Council chaired by Vice President Hamilton Mourão that will coordinate the government’s environmental actions in the Amazon.

Brazil has also promised to establish a way to trace wood illegally taken from the rainforest, replacing a certificate of origin that its environmental agency abolished in March, Ybañez said. Without that, EU importers cannot show where the wood came from, he said.

The vice president, a retired army general, invited ambassadors from European and other nations to the Amazon last month to show them what Brazil is doing environmentally.

“Mourão recognized that Brazil has a problem and has to find a solution to deal with deforestation, illegal logging and illegal mining in the Amazon,” the ambassador said.

The diplomats were not shown areas of greatest impact of deforestation and would have liked to have had more contact with civil society, particularly indigenous communities, he said.

While European civil society groups see the trade deal accelerating destruction of the Amazon, environmental advocates in Brazil consider it a tool to help protect the forest, Ybañez said.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle;Editing by Bernadette Baum and Michael Perry)

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