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EU/Brazil: Delay Trade Deal Pending Amazon Crisis Response

Establish Benchmarks to Address Violence, Deforestation

A forest fire rages in Santo Antonio do Matupi, southern Amazonas state, Brazil, August 27, 2019. © 2019 Associated Press

(São Paulo) – The European Union-Mercosur trade agreement should not be considered for ratification until Brazil shows it is ready to uphold its commitments in the agreement to protect the Amazon rainforest, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to EU officials, member states, and members of the European Parliament. 

The trade deal, agreed to in principle in 2019, includes commitments to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement and fight deforestation. President Jair Bolsonaro’s policies have undermined Brazil’s ability to meet these commitments and fueled an environmental and human rights crisis in the Amazon, Human Rights Watch said.

“President Bolsonaro is not only flouting the environmental commitments in the deal, he’s making it increasingly unlikely that even future Brazilian governments will be able to comply,” said Maria Laura Canineu, Brazil director at Human Rights Watch. “If the EU wants to support the Brazilians who are putting themselves at risk to save their rainforest, it should act now, before Bolsonaro can do more damage.”

Illegal deforestation in Brazil is driven largely by violent criminal networks. A 2019 Human Rights Watch report documented how these mafias threaten, attack, and kill environmental enforcement agents, members of Indigenous communities, and other local residents who seek to protect the rainforest. The killers are rarely brought to justice.

Since taking office in January 2019, Bolsonaro has sabotaged Brazil’s environmental and Indigenous protection agencies and sought to sideline the country’s environmental groups. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose by more than 80 percent in 2019 – according to preliminary data based on real-time alerts by Brazil’s Space Research Agency – and has continued to increase this year during the Covid-19 pandemic. Threats against forest defenders have also increased.


Scientists say that accelerating deforestation is speeding the Amazon toward an irreversible “tipping point,” when it will stop serving as a natural storage area for carbon dioxide, a key driver of climate change, and instead release massive amounts of greenhouse gases.

“The impact of the attacks on Brazil’s forest defenders extends far beyond the Amazon,” Canineu said. “Until the country addresses the violence and lawlessness that facilitate illegal deforestation, the destruction of the world’s largest rainforest will continue unchecked.”

For the EU-Mercosur agreement to come into force, the EU Commission must present the final text to the European Parliament and all 27 EU member states for their approval.

Human Rights Watch urged the commission, the European Parliament, and EU member states to send a clear and categorical message to President Bolsonaro that ratification will not be considered until Brazil shows it is ready to comply with the agreement’s environmental provisions. To assess this readiness, the EU should establish clear and verifiable benchmarks based on concrete actions and results, not plans or proposals. These benchmarks should address the interrelated problems of violence and deforestation at the heart of the Amazon crisis.

The benchmarks should include:

  1. Progress in ending impunity for violence linked to illegal deforestation, as measured by the number of these cases investigated, prosecuted, and brought to trial;
  2. Progress in reducing rates of deforestation in the Amazon, sufficient to put the country on track to meet its target under the Paris agreement of eliminating all illegal deforestation by 2030.


The EU should also monitor policies and legislative initiatives promoted by the Brazilian government that could further encourage illegal invasions of Indigenous territories or otherwise undermine protections of the Amazon rainforest and the rights of the people who live there, Human Rights Watch said.

The European Green Deal includes a commitment to ensuring that the EU’s trade policy reduces deforestation in its supply chains and contributes to global efforts to curb climate change.

“If the EU-Mercosur agreement is ratified without the Brazilian government demonstrating real progress in addressing the Amazon crisis, it will undercut the credibility of the EU’s own commitment to climate-safe trade under the Green Deal,” Human Rights Watch said in its letter.

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