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Amazon Forest Fires

Volume 664: debated on Tuesday 3 September 2019

2. What recent discussions he has had with his Brazilian counterpart on the forest fires in the Amazon rain forest. (912240)

5. What diplomatic steps his Department is taking to help tackle the fires in the Amazon rain forest. (912244)

15. What recent discussions he has had with his Brazilian counterpart on the forest fires in the Amazon rain forest. (912254)

On 27 August, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Brazilian Foreign Minister, Mr Araújo. I will also be seeing the Brazilian ambassador, Mr Arruda, tomorrow, to reaffirm our commitment to working in partnership with Brazil on a range of issues, including the environment. In response to the very serious fires, the Prime Minister announced at the G7 £10 million for protection and restoration of the rain forest. That is in addition to the £120 million of funding we provide through our other programmes.

While we welcome the £10 million that the UK Government have committed to help to restore the Amazonian rain forest, it is paltry compared with the amount spent on advertising for the Brexit debacle. Can the Foreign Secretary tell me whether the money is spent by local partners in a way that ensures that indigenous people will take charge of the process to reforest their homes and protect our planet? What further funding is he willing to pledge today?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s passion for the issue. I can confirm that we spend £120 million through our international climate finance programme. That goes to help to tackle deforestation and to help sustainable farming, and it complements the trading activities that we have with Brazil, which ensure that the Brazilian economy grows and prospers, including for those farmers, who are part and parcel of the problem, burning some of the rain forest.

Over 120,000 people have already petitioned this Parliament, urging trade sanctions to be used against Brazil to put pressure on it. Given that a Minister was in Brazil recently, what pressure was put on by this Government?

The Minister of State, Department for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), was there as part of our international trade obligations, to ensure that we build trade with our strategic partners, such as Brazil. I will be seeing the Brazilian ambassador tomorrow and making clear that we want to help Brazil with its difficulties in these terrible fires, but also that we want to trade with it, because that is a way of building its economy and ensuring that the sorts of fires that are currently raging are put out and stay out.

Last week, both the Taoiseach and French President said that they will attempt to block the Mercosur trade agreement if Brazil does not honour its environmental commitments. Does the Minister agree that the burning of the Amazon is a human and environmental tragedy that requires a global solution and this is no time for fragile male egos or social media spats? What steps has he taken to ensure that such situations receive an urgent and immediate multilateral response now and in the future?

I hope that the hon. Lady will not think that my response is in any way macho. My concern is to make sure that the trade with our two countries prospers and that the Mercosur arrangement succeeds. It will result in the removal of something like 91% of present tariffs. That can only be to the benefit of Brazilian farmers and to the benefit of the Brazilian economy. If we help to ensure that these sensible trade arrangements are made, those fires can be put out and they will stay out.

It has been suggested that changes to trade flows between the US and China may be fuelling some of the Amazon forest fires. Does my right hon. Friend agree that all leading nations should be working together to stop that devastation? What conversations are taking place with other leading countries?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met other Foreign Ministers at Gymnich earlier in the week. He has made clear the concern that we have about those fires. He has also made absolutely clear the importance that we believe trade has to building economies in South America and in the far east, which encourages a better response to such tragedies.

Deforestation in the Amazon is indeed a catastrophe of global and generational proportions. We must of course do the right things about it and I very much welcome the pressure that the Minister has described, but is he not also aware of the fact that the deforestation of the Amazon has decreased quite considerably over the last 20 years, and that while it was very, very bad, it is very much less bad than it was; and equally that the level of decrease, therefore, in the size of the forest has been reduced? Does the Minister therefore agree that this is a domestic matter for the Brazilian Government and that we must persuade them to do the right thing, rather than confronting or berating them?

I certainly think it is better to talk than to engage in megaphone hectoring. Deforestation has increased over the last few years. It has in fact been increasing in Brazil since 2015—some time before the present Government took office. I think it is right that we engage with them—that we try to persuade them to use sensible methods to reduce and stop this problem. It is an international concern, and that is why we have raised it, and will continue to raise it, with the Brazilian authorities.

I have spent some of the summer in the Ecuadorian rain forest —part of the same Amazon rain forest that we are talking about. What other countries have made representations to Brazil about the damage that it is doing to the world, not just to Brazil?

The fires that are currently raging do not just affect Brazil; they also affect, for example, Bolivia. Bolivia is concerned about this, as is Venezuela, Peru and Colombia. So I think an international response is helpful. Certainly, those neighbouring countries that can help Brazil with its difficulties should be encouraged to do so.

The fires have affected 650 million acres of Amazon rain forest. In his answer just now, the Minister revealed that he did not understand that the problem with the Mercosur trade deal is that cutting beef tariffs incentivises destruction of the rain forest. What proposals will the Government be putting forward at the Chile conference on climate change in November?

As the hon. Lady should know, high agricultural tariffs hurt the poorest. That will only encourage them to do the easy thing, which is to burn land, rather than to farm it sustainably and protect the rain forest. Mercosur is a sensible free trade agreement which should be encouraged, and I trust that in the fullness of time we also will undertake a free trade deal with Brazil—more details of that, I am sure, are to come.