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Varadkar threatens to pull plug on EU Mercosur deal over raging Amazon fires

A man wearing a Donald Trump mask, front left, is joined by from left, Italian premier Giuseppe Conte, Britain's prime minister Boris Johnson, French president Emmanuel Macron, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and German chancellor Angela Merkel during a protest ahead of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France. Picture by Peter Dejong, Associated Press
Cate McCurry, PA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that Ireland will not back the controversial EU-Mercosur deal unless Brazil's government protects its rainforest.

The threat comes as global concerns over raging wildfires in the Amazon continue to rise.

Brazilian federal experts reported a record number of forest fires across the country this year – up 84 per cent over the same period in 2018.

Satellite images show smoke from the Amazon reaching across the Latin American continent to the Atlantic coast and Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.

A satellite image showing the fires in Brazil. Picture by NASA via Associated Press

In a statement, the taoiseach said: "There is no way that Ireland will vote for the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement if Brazil does not honour its environmental commitments.

"I am very concerned that this year has seen record levels of destruction of Amazonian forests by fire.

"President [Jair] Bolsonaro's efforts to blame the fires on environmental NGOs [non-governmental organisations] is Orwellian.

"His statement that Brazil will stay in the Paris accords on climate change 'for now' will raise antennas across Europe.

"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 fertiliser, 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."

The proposed agreement between the EU and a group of countries including Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay was reached at the end of June after 20 years of talks.

It could mean an extra 99,000 tonnes of beef, 18,000 tonnes of poultry and 25 tonnes of pork is imported from South America.

The deal has been heavily criticised by environmental groups and beef farmers, who believe it will lead to poorer quality beef flooding the EU market at the expense of Irish farmers.

The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) national livestock chairman Angus Woods called for the EU Commission to "stand up" to President Bolsonaro.

He accused the Brazilian leader of "putting a match" to the Amazon rainforests.

"There is widespread destruction of the rainforests," he said.

"An area the size of a football pitch is burned down every minute to clear the ground for grazing and cattle ranching.

"When the EU-Mercosur trade deal was done in June, IFA highlighted the failure of Brazil and others to meet EU standards and the environmental damage to the rainforests."

Since January this year, Brazil has had more than 74,000 fires in the Amazon rainforests, according to the INPE (the National Institute for Space Research).

Earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron called the wildfires an international crisis and said the leaders of the G7 group of nations should hold urgent discussions about them during their summit in France this weekend.

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