Norway, which is part of European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) grouping four non-EU members, on Tuesday regretted the “awful timing” of a trade pact with Mercosur, as fires rage in the Amazon.
Faced with massive criticism for his handling of the blazes in the rainforests, Brazilian President Jose Bolsonaro on Friday announced the agreement between EFTA, formed by Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and the South American grouping Mercosur, made up of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
“It was awful timing, with the Amazon ablaze,” acknowledged Prime Minister Erna Solberg in an interview with business daily Dagens Naeringsliv (DN).
“On the other hand, it's an agreement we've been working on for several years and the pact supports the goal of a sustainable development of the rainforest,” she added.
The announcement of the deal came as countries like France and Ireland threatened to block another free trade deal between the EU and Mercosur, to protest against Bolsonaro's handling of the fires.
It also came just days after Norway, following in Germany's footsteps, announced it was blocking €30 million ($33 million) of subsidies to Brazil, accusing it of turning its back on the fight against deforestation.
Given the timing, Solberg's right-wing government was harshly criticized by environmental groups and members of the opposition.
According to Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen, two small coalition parties, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats, may reject the pact when it is up for ratification in parliament.
Almost 80,000 forest fires have been reported in Brazil since the start of the year – the highest number since 2013 – and more than half of them have been in the Amazon.