Amazon nations have attacked in a joint declaration the “proliferation” of environmental rules in trade, echoing a growing backlash against new EU deforestation requirements.
A law adopted by European governments in June requires companies to prove a series of products, including cattle, soya and palm oil, were not grown on land affected by tree loss.
The EU says the rules are a key building block in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. But some of the world’s biggest commodity producers have been voicing increasing discontent calling the measures “protectionist” and “discriminatory”.
The latest sign of opposition comes in the Belém Declaration signed on Tuesday by eight South American countries following a major rainforest summit in Brazil. The final document includes a rejection to trade measures such as the EU’s rules.
In the Brazilian city of Belém, Presidents and top officials from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru attended the Amazon Summit, while Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela sent other top officials.
Environmental ‘trade barriers’
The countries failed to agree on a common goal for ending deforestation but issued unified policies and measures to bolster regional cooperation.
The final document does not single out the European law specifically, but it condemns “the proliferation of unilateral trade measures based on environmental requirements and norms which constitute trade barriers”.
The signatories go on to claim that such measures “primarily affect smallholder farmers in developing countries, the pursuit of sustainable development, the promotion of Amazon products and the efforts to eradicate poverty and fight hunger”.
Marcio Astrini from the Observatório do Clima called the inclusion of the paragraph in the joint declaration “a disgrace”. He told Climate Home News that if countries like Brazil and Colombia are serious about ending deforestation, they should have vetoed this statement.
“What’s wrong with a commercial partner saying they don’t want to buy products linked to deforestation?”, Astrini added. “Environmental and climate issues are already part of business and market standards around the world, this is a new reality, and it is better to adapt to it.”
The attack on trade measures in the declaration follows a week of heated rhetoric by top government officials in the region.
Brazil’s agriculture minister Carlos Favaro slammed the European deforestation law, calling it “an affront” to global trade regulations. He added Brazil would boost trade relations with other partners if the EU continues not to recognize Brazil’s efforts to protect the environment.
Deforestation accelerated sharply under the far-right then-president Jair Bolsonaro, but rates have been coming down since the new administration led by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took power at the start of the year.
Brazil is the single biggest exporter of agricultural products to the EU, shipping almost $12 billion worth of soya, corn and beef to the bloc in 2022. The commodities have been a historical driver of tree loss across the Amazon region, including in Brazil. The government says only 2% of Brazilian farmers commit environmental crimes.
Astrini claims for the overwhelming majority of producers the new rules will not be a problem, making the criticism of the European regulations “meaningless” in Brazil.
Other major commodities-producing nations like Indonesia and Malaysia have previously criticised the regulations.
Companies have until December 2024 to adjust to the new legislation, which requires them to trace the products they are selling back to the plot of land where they were produced.
André Vasconcelos from the supply-chain transparency group Trase says the EU law is a “critical step” in making sure consumer markets play a role in driving down deforestation. But he added that for the new regulations to be “effective and equitable”, the EU needs to cooperate with producer countries.
“Such collaboration needs to include the provision of financial support to boost enforcement of environmental regulations as well as the provision of incentives for farmers, particularly smallholder farmers, not to deforest”, he told Climate Home News.
The EU says it is stepping up its engagement with producing countries to ensure an inclusive transition to deforestation-free and legal supply chains.
Mercosur stumbling block
The issue is likely to come back to the fore at upcoming talks over a long-awaited free trade agreement between the EU and South America’s Mercosur bloc.
Paraguay’s President-elect Santiago Pena told Reuters this week that the EU’s current environmental demands in trade talks are “unacceptable”. He said that the European bloc’s proposals would hinder major soy exporter Paraguay’s economic development.
Brazil is also pushing the EU for better trading terms in return for offering environmental guarantees over the protection of the Amazon rainforest. Mercosur officials are working on a counter-proposal before meeting with EU negotiators. The two sides hope to reach an agreement before the end of the year.