June 6, 2019 / 6:43 PM / 12 days ago

Brazil's Bolsonaro to extend environmental land registry indefinitely

FILE PHOTO - Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attends a ceremony of consecration of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

BRASILIA (Reuters) - President Jair Bolsonaro will reissue a temporary decree removing a deadline for farmers to register their properties on an environmental registry set up by Brazil’s 2012 forestry code, the head of the congressional farm caucus said on Thursday.

The decree first issued by the previous government expired last week because Congress did not approve it in time, much to the relief of environmentalists who called it an amnesty for illegal deforestation of farm land.

But lawmaker Alceu Moreira, who heads the powerful farm caucus, said that Bolsonaro’s government will send the measure to Congress again, and if the president cannot legally issue the same decree he will send a bill for a law.

Moreira said it was needed by thousands of farmers who are not on the registry and cannot get access to credit.

The decree as modified in the lower house of Congress earlier this year would allow landowners to reduce the area of their properties that must be forest, arguing that the 2012 code should not be retroactive and deforestation done under previous environmental rules should not be penalized.

The 2012 code set a 80 percent minimum of forest area to be preserved on properties in the Amazon, 35 percent in the savannah biome and 20 percent for the rest of the country.

The proposed change could lower the limit in the Amazon region to 50 percent, which would spur deforestation in the world’s largest tropical forest. The Amazon is considered by many scientists as nature’s best defense against global warming because its trees absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide.

The planned legislation has been attacked by environmental groups and also by major agribusiness companies worried that altering the forest code will hurt Brazil’s image abroad and lose them markets for food exports.

Bolsonaro, a right-wing former army captain backed by the farm sector, has dismissed international concern about the Amazon forest and plans to develop the region by building roads to help agriculture and mining.

Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassú; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Paul Simao

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