While Brazil could gain two million jobs, US$535 billion in GDP, and 12 million hectares of restored pastureland by “building back better” from the pandemic, President Jair Bolsonaro is clinging to his own status quo, defending the interests of Big Ag and calling the civil society groups fighting deforestation in the Amazon a “cancer”.
With the country’s economy in crisis, “Brazil has a path forward that can accelerate its recovery out of the COVID-19 crisis and soften, if not reverse, these trends,” say analysts from the World Resources Institute (WRI). “This new economy can be achieved by prioritizing low-carbon, integrated infrastructure; promoting industrial innovation through green investments; and implementing deforestation-free, high-productivity agriculture.”
But such a “game changer” will not be facilitated by Bolsonaro, aka “Capitão Motoserra” (Captain Chainsaw), who in a Facebook broadcast on September 3 repeated past allegations that the country’s epic forest fires were set by the civil society groups that are scrambling to save the Amazon. “You know that NGOs, to a large extent, cannot beat me, but I can’t kill this cancer, which, to a large extent, is NGOs,” he said, according a report by Portuguese media outlet Plataforma.
Bolsonaro also sought to shrug off any responsibility for the wildfires currently ravaging the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland and one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Instead, he blamed a mixture of “criminality” and “spontaneous combustion.” While it is true that fires can smoulder for months in wetlands before erupting, the conditions that started the Pantanal fires in the first place—such as the government’s refusal to protect the region from incursions by land-clearing cattle ranchers and soy producers—have long been brewing, reports The Guardian.
Bolsonaro has also proven to be an avid champion of such interest groups since his election in 2018. In his September 3 broadcast, he issued a salvo against those fighting to bring more of the country’s territory under the protection of Indigenous reserves, a move he said “would put an end to agribusiness.”
Now, the Canadian Press reports that Canada is facing criticism from Greenpeace for its ongoing refusal to suspend trade talks with Brazil. France and Germany have already done exactly that in protest of Bolsonaro’s government putting ranching and business interests ahead of the well-being of the Amazon rainforest.
For this year’s Global Day for Action on the Amazon September 5, Greenpeace rallied its followers to message Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne on Twitter: Their message: if Canada signs the Mercosur free trade agreement, it will be tantamount to rewarding Brazil for its lack of action. Canada “cannot be opening the market to precisely the products that are driving the devastating Amazon fires and ongoing deforestation and destruction that we see, and claim to be responsible about climate change,” campaigner Reykia Fick told CP.
The latest data show Canada importing about C$30 million in Brazilian beef in 2018, CP reports. But in July, Brazil’s Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock said the Mercosur deal could see its members’ beef exports rise “by more than $1.8 billion”.
Having already begun its official negotiations with Brazil and the other three active members of the Mercosur Bloc—Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina—Canada continues to reiterate its commitment to the agreement, notes CP. In a statement for International Trade, press secretary Ryan Nearing said the government is “seeking an ambitious, comprehensive, and enforceable environment chapter within a free trade agreement with Mercosur.”
Fick sees that as little more than window dressing. “The trade deal is fundamentally flawed and it must be abandoned,” she said. “It must be stopped publicly with a clear message about why.”