Berliner Tageblatt - Brazil economy minister renews spat with France over Amazon

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Brazil economy minister renews spat with France over Amazon
Brazil economy minister renews spat with France over Amazon / Photo: © AFP/File

Brazil economy minister renews spat with France over Amazon

In decidedly undiplomatic language, Brazil's economy minister has renewed a spat with France over deforestation in the Amazon, telling the European nation it is becoming "irrelevant" and risks being told where to stick its criticism.

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Following in the footsteps of his boss, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro -- who mocked French First Lady Brigitte Macron's appearance amid a row with her husband, Emmanuel, over Amazon forest fires in 2019 -- Economy Minister Paulo Guedes took the gloves off in comments to a business conference Tuesday.

"We had a minister visiting from France one time. 'You're burning the forest,' he said. I told him, 'You're burning Notre Dame,'" the iconic cathedral that caught fire in April 2019, Guedes said in a speech to the Brazilian Association of Bars and Restaurants in Brasilia.

"I mean, what an idiotic accusation. Notre Dame sits on one city block, and you couldn't stop it from catching fire. We have an area bigger than Europe and you're criticizing us," he said, in video recordings of the event that went viral online.

"You better start treating us right or we're going to tell you to go fuck yourselves."

Guedes, an ultra-liberal economist who trained at the University of Chicago, said Brazilian trade with France had been dwarfed by that with China -- $7 billion versus $120 billion.

"You're becoming irrelevant to us," he said, insisting it was time for France to sign off on a proposed free-trade deal between the European Union and South American bloc Mercosur.

The deal has stalled over European concerns that agricultural production in Brazil, the world's top exporter of beef and soy, is destroying the world's biggest rainforest.

Since agribusiness ally Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, average annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased by 75 percent from the previous decade.

Bolsonaro, who is up for reelection in October, exchanged heated words over the issue with Macron on social media amid a surge of Amazon forest fires in 2019.

It escalated into Bolsonaro sharing a supporter's Facebook post of side-by-side pictures of the two presidents' wives, with the caption: "Now you understand why Macron is persecuting Bolsonaro?"

Guedes jumped into that fray, too, calling Brigitte Macron "truly ugly."