Canada pushing for Amazon protections in free-trade talks with Brazil

Canada began trade negotiations last year with the four full members of the Mercosur group

Canada is forging ahead with trade talks with the South American Mercosur trading bloc, hoping to push Brazil to better protect the critical Amazon rainforest, a government spokesman said Tuesday.

The talks are continuing despite Brazil’s rejection of international funding to help fight fires in the Amazon, apparently over a personal spat with France’s President Emmanuel Macron.

Canada began trade negotiations last year with the four full members of the Mercosur group — Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. There have been six rounds of talks, most recently in June.

Environment groups last week asked the federal government to abandon those talks in a bid to force Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to end the rapid deforestation experts say is partly to blame for the record number of fires burning in the Amazon this year.

Tuesday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh echoed them, saying in a statement that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “is putting the interests of rich corporations ahead of the fight against climate change by continuing free-trade negotiations with President Bolsonaro.”

A spokesman for International Trade Minister Jim Carr said the talks will continue “because we are committed to diversifying our trading partners” but that trade is not the only thing on the agenda.

ALSO READ: Canada offers $15M, water bombers on top of G7 help to fight Amazon wildfires

“As part of negotiations, Canada is seeking environmental provisions that would be more ambitious than the current (World Trade Organization) guidelines, and include sustainable forest management and combating illegal logging and related trade,” said Michael Jones.

During recent talks for the new North American free-trade agreement, Canada successfully lobbied to get a specific chapter on environmental protections included. However Canada was not able to persuade the United States to include a mention of climate change.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Tuesday any agreement with Brazil would have to have strong environmental protections, including commitments to reforestation.

Bolsonaro’s policies to use the resources of the Amazon in agriculture and mining have been blamed by activists for the fires, some of which might have started by farmers burning fields to prepare them for planting. Bolsonaro disagrees entirely, even accusing critics of lighting the fires themselves.

Earlier this month, Bolsonaro fired the head of the Brazilian space agency after it released regular data on the forest that showed significantly faster deforestation since Bolsonaro took office on Jan. 1.

The policies of the Bolsonaro government, combined with the fires, led France’s Macron last week to threaten to block ratification of a trade deal Europe reached with the Mercosur bloc in June. Ireland’s prime minister Leo Varadkar made a similar threat.

Canada is not following their lead.

Trudeau did work with Macron to get the Amazon fires onto the agenda of the annual G7 leaders’ summit in France over the weekend. The G7 countries announced a joint US$20-million commitment to help fight the fires, money Bolsonaro is currently rejecting.

Canada separately announced it would send $15 million as well as Canadian water bombers and other equipment if it’s needed. A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Brazil and other Amazon nations are currently assessing their needs but that the money has not been rejected by anyone.

Canada’s decision not to stop the trade talks did not sit well with Singh.

“Even as France and Ireland say they’ll block an EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement if Brazil doesn’t honour its environmental responsibilities, Trudeau keeps negotiating with Bolsonaro as if the earth isn’t burning up around them,” his statement said.

“This is another disturbing example of Justin Trudeau saying and tweeting pretty things in public, when behind closed doors he’s doing business with the person responsible for the deforestation and devastation of the lungs of the planet.”

The Amazon fires are bringing the impact of climate change back into the headlines just days before the official start of a federal election campaign, in which climate change is expected to be front and centre.

Proof Strategies vice-president Greg MacEachern, a former Liberal aide, said that could bode well for the Liberals ”because they are seen to be stronger on the environment than the Conservatives.”

That belief is borne out in several recent polls, which have found the environment is one of the biggest issues for voters, and that respondents give the edge to the Liberals over the Conservatives on the subject.

Tzeporah Berman, international program director at environmental advocacy group Stand.Earth, said Canadians have known about the importance of the Amazon for decades and there is no doubt the fires there are contributing to their concern about climate as they ponder their election choices.

“Fires aren’t supposed to happen there,” she said. “It’s a rainforest.”

At 5.5 million square kilometres, the Amazon rainforest covers an area more than five times the size of Ontario. About two-thirds of it lies in Brazil but it extends into several neighbouring countries, including Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

The region is known as the “lungs of the planet” because it produces one-fifth of Earth’s oxygen supply. It also works as a significant carbon sink, absorbing vast amounts of carbon dioxide every year.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

TRAFFIC: VIDEO: Truck crash halts Highway 1 traffic in Langley

Left lane blocked after truck crashes into median by 264th Street

Set in Stone: Harrison Hot Springs carver looks back on long career

Werner Streicek hopes to see his art in public display soon.

SD 78 approves budget for 2019-2020

No changes to the bottom line, unanimous approval

Tick season begins in Hope, says local veterinary clinic

Vet clinic helping track Lyme disease across country

VIDEO: Harrison sculptor/carver shows off his work

Werner Streicek has been sculpting for 25 years in Harrison Hot Springs

Fashion Fridays: Tammy’s big makeover

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Notorious B.C. fugitive to be extradited from California on murder charge

Brandon Nathan Teixeira submitted to extradition during court proceedings Thursday in Sacramento

Canada prepared to monitor for community spread of COVID-19: Tam

The U.S. confirmed one case of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, in California Thursday

Decade-long health care battle draws to a close today in B.C.

Dr. Brian Day began his battle a decade ago against the B.C. government

Speaker ‘will not tolerate illegal activity’ on B.C. legislature grounds, says chief of staff

Chief of staff to the B.C. speaker Alan Mullen says situation with demonstrators appears ‘fluid’

Conservative MP questions whether rail blockades constitute terrorism

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett travelled to B.C. to meet Indigenous leaders

Lawsuit over African mine can be heard in British Columbia: Supreme Court

B.C. courts dismissed Nevsun’s attempts to make Eritrea the forum for any lawsuit proceedings

Clothing, jewelry, purses: RCMP ask court about disposal of evidence in Robert Pickton case

Pickton was sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 25 years for the murders of six women

Ryan nets hat trick in return as Senators beat Canucks 5-2

Ottawa winger received assistance for admitted alcohol problem

Most Read