As deforestation in the Amazon reaches its highest level in 12 years, France rejects Brazilian soybeans

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  • As Brazil continues to deforest and burn the Amazon at an alarming rate, France has announced plans to dramatically reduce its dependence on Brazilian soybean flour and “stop importing deforestation” .
  • France is currently the leading European importer of Brazilian soybean meal, purchasing 1.9 million tonnes per year. “Our goal today is [cutting] soybean imports from the American continent, ”the French Minister of Agriculture and Food said this week.
  • As the loss of its soybean sales to France worries Brazilian soybean producers and commodity companies, the agribusiness has expressed greater concern over whether rhetoric and anti-environmental policies continue. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will provoke a large-scale international boycott of Brazilian commodities.
  • In particular, they fear that the president’s hard line risks ratifying the Mercosur trade agreement between the EU and South American countries, including Brazil. This week, the EU’s ambassador to Brazil said the deal is now on hold, pending the country’s concrete actions to tackle deforestation and fires in the Amazon.
Julien Denormandie (far left) meets with representatives of the vegetable oils and proteins sector and the livestock sector on Tuesday, December 1, 2020 to discuss France’s commitment to a 40% increase in its protein crop area, including soybeans, over the next three years. France’s objective is to regain part of its agro-food sovereignty and to “stop importing deforestation”. Ministry of Agriculture and Food Photo by Xavier Remongin / agriculture.gouv.fr.

Coincidence or not, a day after the release of data by the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) – showing that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has exceeded 11,000 square kilometers, peaking in 12 years – the French government has officially launched its plant protein development plan, which had been in preparation since at least last January.

Julien Denormandie, French Minister of Agriculture and Food, declared that the objective of the plan is “to recover part of [France’s] agro-food sovereignty, reduction of dependence on plant proteins and an end to deforestation imports. ”

Denormandie’s reference to imported deforestation, while nonspecific, was almost certainly aimed at Brazil, infamous for its tropical deforestation due to the expansion of agribusiness in the Amazon, particularly under the Jair Bolsonaro administration. Currently, France is the European Union country that imports the most Brazilian soybean flour – a total of almost 2 million tonnes per year. Under the new plan, these imports will be significantly reduced.

Between August 2019 and July 2020, Brazil experienced the highest rate of Amazon deforestation in more than a decade, with an increase of 9.5% compared to the same period the previous year. During the same period, the number of fines imposed by IBAMA (the Brazilian environmental agency) against illegal deforesters in the rainforest biome fell by 42%, from 3,403 to 1,964 citations. The fines applied during those 12 months are the lowest in IBAMA’s history, according to FakeBook.eco, an initiative of the Climate Observatory, a network of civil society organizations.

On Tuesday 1 December, the French Minister declared: “Today, [in France] We have [only] one million hectares [2.4 million acres] dedicated to the cultivation of oilseeds (canola, sunflower, flax) and legumes (soybeans, peas, pods). This area is expected to increase by 400,000 hectares [988,422 acres] in three years, up to 2 million hectares [4.9 million acres] in 2030… Our goal today is [cutting] soybean imports from the Americas. ”

Emus feeding in a soybean plantation in Alto Paraíso, Goiás state, Brazil. Image by Marcelo Camargo / Agência Brasil.

France imports 3.3 million tonnes of soybeans per year and is the European Union’s largest buyer of Brazilian soybean meal. Of the 2.2 million tonnes of this product purchased between July 2019 and 2020 by France on the international market, 1.9 million tonnes came from Brazil. The other countries supplying France are Argentina and the United States.

French producers have signed a commitment in which they will commit to achieving the objective set by the government. In return, producers will receive a grant of 100 million euros (US $ 121 million) for two years to finance the cultivation and research of protein crops.

France’s potential loss as a Brazilian soybean customer comes after relations between the two countries deteriorated by Bolsonaro’s plans to develop agro-industry and mining in the Amazon, in total disregard of the deforestation and fires. In August 2019, a spokesperson for French President Emmanuel Macron said the EU member could no longer support the signing of the Mercosur trade deal – the largest trade deal in history – involving the EU, Brazil and other South American countries. Referring to the catastrophic Amazon fires in 2019, the spokesperson said: “Under these conditions, France will oppose the Mercosur deal as it is.” The Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, is sequestering huge carbon stores, and its loss could seriously destabilize the global climate.

The rapid expansion of agro-industry in Brazil is directly linked to the destruction of the forests of the Amazon and Cerrado biomes. Fires are seen here burning near a deforested area in the municipality of Nova Maringá, Mato Grosso state, Brazil, July 9, 2020. Image © Christian Braga / Greenpeace.

“The Bolsonaro government will insist so much on being a villain of the world in the environmental arena that it will drive out those who … [buy] Brazilian products, ”Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the nonprofit Climate Observatory, told Mongabay. “There is a growing international will to pay more attention to the purchase of Brazilian products, or even not to buy them, so as not to get involved in deforestation in the Amazon. We are already seeing this – a growing wave of rejection of Brazilian products. ”

Brazilian soybean producers and commodity companies are increasingly concerned that Bolsonaro’s rhetoric and extreme anti-environmental policies are crippling their industry. But the French decision to distance itself from Brazilian soybeans is perhaps only the first economic impact of this type. Much worse could be on the horizon if France, Ireland and other countries refuse to ratify the US $ 19 trillion Mercosur trade agreement between the EU and a Latin American bloc including Brazil.

The economic pressure exerted by the EU on the Brazilian government is clearly increasing. On Wednesday, December 3, Ignacio Ybáñez, the EU’s ambassador to Brazil, said in an interview that the ratification of the Mercosur agreement was now on hold, pending the concrete actions of the South American country to fight against deforestation and fires.

“If confidence is not restored, and … the European partners do not see that there is a will of the Brazilian government to put the idea of ​​sustainability at the center of its activities, the agreement will not be able to pass”, Ybáñez said.

Banner Image: Heavily irrigated soybeans grow in the Brazilian savannah of Cerrado, a biodiverse biome that has lost half of its native vegetation to livestock, soybeans, cotton, corn and other crops. Image by Flávia Milhorance for Mongabay.

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Agriculture, Amazon agriculture, Amazon conservation, Amazon destruction, Amazon rainforest, Amazon soybeans, conservation, controversial, corporate social responsibility, environment, environmental policy, agriculture, fires, food industry, forest loss, forests, global trade, globalization, governance , government, Green, Industrial agriculture, International trade, Megafires, Deforestation of tropical forests, Destruction of tropical forests, Tropical forests, Soybeans, Supply chain, Threats to tropical forests, Threats to the Amazon, Trade

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