Trading for the Amazon

Greens are often sceptical of large free trade deals, but, as Molly Scott Cato MEP explains, they can sometimes be crucial for ensuring the respect of key environmental protections and rights

Back in the summer a decision taken in Brazil sent shock waves through the global Green community. President Temer, whose legitimacy has been in doubt since he seized power from former President Dilma Roussef, in what many considered a judicial coup, announced that he would open up at least 30 per cent of the Renca reserve to mining and large- scale agroindustry. This amounted to 46,000 square kilometres – an area the size of Denmark. Equally shocking was the revelation in a recent report from Greens in the European Parliament about the new soya highway through the Amazon designed to facilitate the growth and export of soya to feed cattle that will end up on the tables of Western consumers. 

The proposal to open up the Renca reserve to exploitation would be catastrophic for the earth’s climate, for biodiversity and for local indigenous communities. Although a Brazilian court later blocked the attempt by President Temer to open up the Renca reserve, it is likely to be only a temporary reprieve for the area. Previously, high court judges have overturned rulings made by local courts. 

The battle against the destruction of these natural spaces, that are so vital to countering climate change, is led by the indigenous communities whose home they are. They are frequently assassinated by death squads paid by corporations, as was the case with Berta Caceres in Honduras. Aura Lolita Chavez, who has been nominated by the European Parliament for this year’s Sakharov Prize, is similarly at risk.

The disturbing news of attacks on the Amazon coincide with attempts by the European Commission to speed up talks on the revised trade deal with Mercosur, the regional trade bloc for most of Latin America and of which Brazil currently holds the Presidency. 

In a letter to Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Green MEPs urged the Commission to use the EU-Mercosur Agreement to prevent further destruction of the Amazon rainforest. With Brazilian imports into the EU being dominated by primary products – over a quarter of which are minerals – we fear that the deal could do the opposite and encourage European extractive and agri-businesses to exploit exports from areas like the Renca reserve.

Greens frequently oppose trade deals but all these treaties include clauses claiming to respect sustainability and indigenous rights and we must force the Commission to prove that those clauses are worth the paper they are written on. We have a vital opportunity to use our trade muscle to make clear that the Amazon is not for sale and that minerals extracted from a protected reserve will never find their way onto European markets.

We also urged the Commission to remind Brazil of its commitment to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and pointed to WTO rules which say that trading parties have a legitimate right to ban imports of products if it is ‘necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health.’

As a member of the Parliament’s delegation to Mercosur I am determined to monitor the trade talks and blow the whistle on the way the negotiators are trying to sell the rights of the forest and the indigenous people who live there down the river.

The European Parliament has a commitment to rainforest conservation and sustainable forest management in Brazil. MEPs will have a final vote on the Mercosur trade deal and Greens will vote against any agreement that increases trade in raw materials whilst threatening the most important rainforest on the planet.