By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Uncontrolled fires sweeping through the Amazon rainforest could scuttle Brazil’s chances of becoming a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), worried business leaders said on Friday.
The surge in fires has alarmed environmentalists who blame right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro for undermining protection of the world’s largest tropical rainforest and turning a blind eye to illegal deforestation by farmers and land grabbers.
The wildfires have sparked international criticism of Bolsonaro’s handling of the destruction of the rainforest, which produces more than 20% of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere and is considered a vital brake on climate change.
French President Emmanuel Macron said the crisis should be raised at a summit of G7 leaders in France this weekend, at which he will push for all members to sign a charter on biodiversity.
“The situation is very serious,” said Rubens Barbosa, head of foreign trade at the Sao Paulo industry lobby FIESP.
Brazil asked to join the Paris-based club of 37 developed nations in 2017, seeking a seal of approval required by many institutional investors.
But Brazil’s entry depends on OECD members agreeing that the country is complying with a series of recommendations, many of them environmental standards.
With the current lack of concern for the environment under the Bolsonaro government, its OECD membership is at risk, said Gabriel Petrus, executive director of the International Chamber of Commerce in Brazil.
“We think it will be a challenge now,” Petrus said. He called on the Minister of Environment Ricardo Salles to take immediate action to reinforce protection of the forests to curb the fires and improve Brazil’s image abroad.
“Otherwise, we will not get approved to join the OECD,” he said.
Salles will travel to Paris in September to attend a meeting of the OECD’s Environment Policy Committee where he is expected to be questioned on Brazil’s policies.
Bolsonaro has vowed to open up the Amazon region to more agriculture and mining, even on indigenous reservations that are seen as the most protected parts of the rainforest.
His government also plans to pave road through pristine parts of the Amazon, which would open up access to illegal loggers, ranchers and wildcat miners, environmentalists fear.
Business leaders in the farm sector as well as the pulp and paper industry have urged Bolsonaro to change his policies on the environment to avoid the threat of boycotts of their products in foreign consumer markets.
Petrus said large Brazilian companies that are major exporters of food and cosmetics are already complying with the best environmental practices.
“The deforestation we are seeing is being done illegally by farmers and land grabbers and must be investigated,” he said.
Amid growing global condemnation, Bolsonaro said on Friday he may mobilise the army to combat the wildfires.
Stung by a global outcry over the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, his government launched a diplomatic offensive to persuade the international community of its environmental credentials
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Sandra Maler)