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ECONOMY | 23-08-2019 10:19

Macron: France won't back EU-Mercosur deal over Bolsonaro's climate 'lies'

Outraged over the Amazon fires, French president brands Brazilian counterpart a liar and threatens to block EU-Mercosur trade deal "under these conditions."

Outraged over the Amazon fires, Emmanuel Macron has branded Brazil’s president a liar and threatened to block the European Union’s trade deal with the Mercosur countries as he prepares to whip the Group of Seven leaders into climate action.

The French president’s office said in a statement that it has become clear that Jair Bolsonaro wasn’t serious about his commitments on tackling climate change when he spoke to world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka earlier this year.

"Given the attitude of Brazil over the last weeks, the president can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him at the Osaka [G20] summit [in June]," a French presidential official said Friday, as a public row flared between the two leaders over wildfires raging in the Amazon rainforest.

The official said Brazil's comments and policies over the last few weeks showed that Bolsonaro did not intend to respect obligations on climate change and also did not want to commit on concrete proposals to maintain biodiversity.

"Under these conditions, France will oppose the Mercosur [Free Trade Agreement with the EU] as it stands," the official added.

A day before he’s due to welcome G7 leaders to Biarritz, Macron said he would make the burning of the Amazon jungle a priority at the summit. 

Macron had tweeted Thursday that fires burning in the Amazon amount to an international crisis and should be discussed as a top priority when the G7 countries meet this weekend in France.

Bolsonaro then blasted Macron for having a "colonialist mentality."

Geopolitcal manouevring

The way that an environmental dispute escalated so quickly into a new front in the global trade tensions shows the growing importance of climate as a fundamental plank of geopolitics.

The EU has sought to leverage the size of its market to pressure trading partners into doing more to reduce emissions and is also concerned that its companies will be undercut by rivals operating in places with looser restrictions.

But the configuration of the G7 right now will make it difficult for Macron to make a lot headway. Trump famously ripped up last year’s communique and does not want to be cornered. The United Kingdom's Boris Johnson is eager to tighten his bond with Trump and at odds with European allies over Brexit. Italy is mired in a messy political crisis at home and has no prime minister. Japan is unlikely to stick its neck out – it is more concerned about the potential fallout from the U.S. trade war with China.

The EU wrapped up 20 years of negotiations to seal an accord with South America’s leading customs union just weeks ago, in what was then seen as a major retort to US President Donald Trump’s attacks on the global system of free trade. The deal could affect almost 90 billion euros (US$100 billion) of goods and Brazil expects to see its economy increased by about US$90 billion over the next 15 years.

Officials on both sides are still fine-tuning the agreement and it still needs to be approved by EU governments before it can enter into force. Irish lawmakers have already signalled their opposition to an influx of Brazilian beef in a non-binding vote and Finland plans to propose a EU ban on it.

– TIMES/BLOOMBERG

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