Macron spearheads pressure on Bolsonaro over Amazon fires

Valérie LEROUX
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Demonstrations have been held across the world calling for action to protect the Amazon

Demonstrations have been held across the world calling for action to protect the Amazon (AFP Photo/Odd ANDERSEN)

Paris (AFP) - France's Emmanuel Macron led a growing wave of international pressure on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro over the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest Friday, telling him Paris would block efforts to seal a major trade deal.

The issue will be high on the agenda when global leaders meet for the G7 summit Saturday in the French resort of Biarritz, where they are also set to tackle global trade wars and the Iran nuclear standoff.

Just days before hosting the summit, Macron called for urgent talks on the "international crisis" in the world's largest rainforest, saying leaders would hammer out "concrete measures" to tackle it.

But his remarks drew a sharp retort from the Brazilian leader who fumed over his "colonialist mentality", prompting Macron to hit back by calling Bolsonaro a liar over a June pledge to fight global warming.

"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," a French presidential official said.

As a result, France would oppose a trade deal between the EU and South America's Mercosur nations, effectively killing any chance of it being ratified, he said.

Moves to prioritise the Amazon wildfires on the G7 agenda won backing from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeting that the fires were "heartbreaking" and offering help to put them out.

So far this year, there have been 76,720 forest fires in Brazil -- the highest number since 2013, official figures show, with more than half in the Amazon rainforest.

"The Amazon rainforest -- the lungs which produce 20 percent of our planet's oxygen -- is on fire," Macron tweeted late Thursday.

And on Friday, he expressed hope the G7 would act to ensure speedy reforestation of areas devastated by fire.

"We are going to try and mobilise everyone to raise funding for reforestation as quickly as possible," Macron told the French youth news website Konbini, saying he wanted to secure commitments from fellow leaders, including Trump, ahead of the UN's Global Climate Action Summit in New York next month.

But in a sign of some of the difficulties, Germany said Macron's proposal to block the Mercosur deal was "not the right response".

"Failing to conclude the Mercosur agreement would not contribute to reducing the clearing of the rainforest in Brazil," a government spokesman told AFP.

Finland, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Council, also weighed in on the crisis, suggesting it and the EU "urgently look into the option of banning the import of Brazilian beef".

- Iran standoff -

The leaders of France, the US, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy and Japan already face a litany of issues in Biarritz, which is on a security lockdown for the summit.

Macron met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif earlier Friday for last-minute talks trying to soothe tensions between Tehran and Washington.

A nuclear deal between Western powers and Iran all but collapsed after Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew US support in May 2018, reimposing economic sanctions on Tehran.

"We're at a critical moment," Macron warned on Wednesday, acknowledging that Iran is "laying out a strategy" for exiting the 2015 deal.

"President Macron made some suggestions last week to President (Hassan) Rouhani and we believe they are moving in the right direction, although we are not definitely there yet," Zarif told AFP in an interview.

He said he had a "good discussion" with the French leader, who would now hold talks with other European leaders to seek a way forward.

- 'Mixed signals'? -

Macron's diplomacy is delicate, with France seeking to roll back some of the US measures imposed as part of Trump's policy of "maximum pressure" on Iran, which insists its nuclear programme is peaceful.

French diplomats have raised the idea of US waivers on sanctions affecting Iranian oil exports to India and China, or a new credit line for Tehran that could help the struggling economy.

That prompted Trump to accuse Macron of sending Tehran "mixed signals" in his attempt to broker fresh talks between the longtime adversaries.

But Trump appears to be the outlier among America's G7 partners on Iran, with a British diplomatic source saying the UK would continue to back the 2015 nuclear deal as the "best way" of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The US leader will arrive in the glitzy beachside resort on Saturday already riled by a new French law increasing taxes on US internet giants such as Google and Facebook. He is also threatening tariffs on the European automobile sector.

Just before the summit, China fired the latest salvo in its trade war the US, announcing new tariffs on $75 billion of American imports.

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