By William James and Michel Rose
BIARRITZ, France (Reuters) – Britain joined Germany on Saturday in criticising French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to block a trade deal between the European Union and the Mercosur group of southern American countries to pressure Brazil on Amazon forest fires.
In a surprise statement on Friday, Macron said he had decided to block the EU-Mercosur deal and accused Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro of lying in playing down concerns about climate change.
After landing in the seaside French resort of Biarritz, where Macron is hosting a summit of G7 countries, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson criticised the decision, a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office did the same in Berlin.
“There are all sorts of people who will take any excuse at all to interfere with trade and to frustrate trade deals and I don’t want to see that,” Johnson told reporters.
Late on Friday, a spokesman for Merkel said not concluding the trade deal with the Mercosur countries of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay was “not the appropriate answer to what is happening in Brazil now.”
“The non-conclusion of the Mercosur agreement would not help to reduce forest destruction in Brazil,” the spokesman added.
An official at Macron’s office said the French leader had later explained his position to Merkel. “It is something the president explained to the Chancellor so she understands the position he took yesterday and that’s something she understood very well,” the official said.
On Thursday, Macron and U.N. Secretary General António Guterres expressed concerns about wildfires raging through the Amazon, but Bolsonaro responded angrily to what he regarded as meddling.
Macron’s office said on Friday Bolsonaro’s decisions in the last few weeks showed he had decided not to respect climate commitments he made to France at the last G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. “The president can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him during the Osaka summit,” the Elysee added.
Bolsonaro has rejected what he calls foreign interference in domestic affairs in Brazil, where vast tracts of the Amazon rainforest are ablaze in what is known as the burning season. He said the army could be sent to help fight the fires.
Environmentalists have blamed deforestation for an increase in fires and accuse the right-wing president of relaxing protection of a vast carbon trap and climate driver that is crucial to combating global climate change.
France has long expressed reservations about the Mercosur deal, with Macron warning in June he would not sign it if Bolsonaro pulled out of the Paris climate accord.
France has been worried about the impact on its vast agriculture industry of South American imports that would not have to respect strict EU environmental regulations.
(Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke, Marine Pennetier and Simon Carraud; Editing by Leigh Thomas and Ros Russell)