The European Union (EU) is the second biggest market for Brazilian soy, and a major importer of Brazilian beef and leather. These goods fuel deforestation – much of illegal – in Brazil. For example, cattle ranching in the Brazilian Amazon is the world’s largest driver of deforestation.
The EU’s resolve to confront its part in this destruction by eradicating deforestation from its supply chains through its proposed Regulation on deforestation-free products, is extremely important. Not only can it influence market behaviour, it also sets an agenda for fighting deforestation that the rest of the world can follow.
In Brazil, reaction to the draft has been divided.
Not surprisingly, agribusiness – particularly the soybean sector – has so far responded negatively: arguing that the EU is imposing a non-commercial trade barrier, and that the legislation will represent an unwarranted intervention in domestic affairs.
On the other hand, Brazilian NGOs, environmental movements and Indigenous organisations have by and large reacted positively - with one particularly big caveat.
The draft regulation is fundamentally flawed in relying on laws in producer countries to respect communities’ customary tenure rights.
In Brazil, the laws protecting Indigenous and community land rights have been flouted - and severely weakened - since the Bolsonaro government came to power in January 2019. According to the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) , “the result is the startling growth in deforestation, and the increase of violence against Indigenous Peoples, through land invasions, illegal activities like mining, and other attacks.”
This is why, earlier this year, many Brazilian Indigenous organisations and NGOs – along with groups from 32 other countries – signed an open letter to EU lawmakers urging them to amend the draft law, so that it includes measures forcing businesses to respect communities’ customary tenure rights, as defined by international human rights standards.
Missing products and ecosystems
In its position paper, Observatório do Clima (Brazilian Climate Observatory) outlines another weakness in the current draft is that despite the wide range of listed products and by-products, the Regulation should also include high-volume exports with heavy deforestation risks, such as cotton, maize and canned meats. In 2020, 39 per cent of Brazil’s beef exports to the EU were processed meats, including in cans.
The scope of ecosystems listed is also limited. The draft follows the definition of forests given by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and leaves out natural ecosystems such as savannas (like the Brazilian Cerrado and Caatinga), wetlands (like the Pantanal), and native grasslands (like the Pampa). These biomes have suffered from growing deforestation and conversion rates due to the expansion of agribusiness.
Observatório do Clima is also concerned that if the EU unilaterally determines the risk ratings of producer countries, as the draft proposal sets out, then it may not fully grasp local realities. Assessing risk should be an open analysis process, with consultation channels for people from the countries themselves. The unilateral risk determination gives the impression of intervention, protectionism and diminishes the legitimacy of the relevant decision taken by the EU.
They also believe that the benchmarking system that the EU will use to assess the risk of commodity-driven deforestation and forest degradation, must be done at national level in Brazil. Subnational authorities (“states”) are not equipped nor legally empowered to combat deforestation. Most administrative regulations, laws and enforcement are concentrated at the federal level. The states follow much of the federal rules and trends. On other issues than deforestation, the benchmarking can be made for subnational governments.
“If these shortcomings can be addressed, then this Regulation can fulfil the hopes so many have invested in it - and be a vital tool in protecting the world’s tropical forests, including the Amazon.” says Marcio Astrini, Observatório do Clima’s Executive Secretary.