Brazil vice president trades barbs with France's Macron over Amazon deforestation

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourão on Wednesday fired back at French President Emmanuel Macron’s criticisms that Brazilian soy is linked to Amazon deforestation, saying the European leader did not understand where most of Brazil’s soy comes from.

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's Vice President Hamilton Mourao looks on during an inauguration ceremony of the new Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello (not pictured) at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, September 16, 2020. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

“Mr. Macron is no good!” Mourão told reporters, speaking briefly in French.

Mourão said the amount of soy produced in the Amazon is tiny and Brazil has the competitive advantage in agriculture, dedicating a much smaller proportion of its land to farming than France does.

On Tuesday, Macron said it was better for Europe to grow its own soy rather than importing Brazilian crops.

“To continue to depend on Brazilian soy would be to condone deforestation of the Amazon,” Macron said on Twitter.

“We are consistent with our ecological ambitions, we are fighting to grow soy in Europe!”

While France itself does not import much Brazilian soy, the European Union is the second largest importer of Brazil’s agricultural products after China. The EU imported 8.4 million tonnes of soy from Brazil in 2020, a 61% increase compared to 2019, according to Brazilian Agriculture Ministry statistics.

Brazil is seeking to expand those exports via a trade deal between the EU and the Mercosur trade bloc, which also includes Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The details of the deal still must settled and ratified to take effect, but faces opposition from agricultural and environmental lobbies in Europe.

Macron has held up negotiations with Mercosur, saying he cannot sign a deal with any country that does not respect the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Preserving the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, is vital to curbing climate change because of the vast amount of greenhouse gas that the forest absorbs.

Amazon deforestation rose to a 12-year high in 2020, with an area seven times the size of London destroyed, Brazil government data shows.

Reporting by Ricardo Brito, additional reporting by Ana Mano; Writing by Jake Spring; Editing by David Gregorio