Almost two months after President Joe Biden’s climate summit, environmental negotiations between Brazil and the United States have been frozen.
The shutdown coincides with the increase in deforestation in the Amazon and the operation of the Federal Police which affected the Minister of the Environment, Ricardo Salles.
The last technical meeting between administration negotiators Jair Bolsonaro and Biden took place in early May. On the occasion, technicians from Itamaraty and the Ministry of the Environment held a videoconference with Jonathan Pershing, advisor to the special climate envoy, John Kerry.
The objective was to try to find an American funding model for actions to preserve the environment in Brazil. At the end of the videoconference, the participants agreed that they would have a new conversation in the following weeks, but since then, no meeting request has been made by the parties.
Since the start of the Biden administration, seven environmental videoconferences have been held between countries.
Kerry participated directly in two meetings – Salles attended both meetings, having been accompanied in one by former Chancellor Ernesto Araújo and in the other by the new leader of Itamaraty, Carlos França. The remaining five meetings took place at the technical level.
Salles was also present in some of the technical video calls. In one, he presented a slide with an image of a dog wagging its tail in front of roast chicken skewers, an allegory of Brazil’s appetite for international donations.
Itamaraty said the technical meetings are not “formal negotiations” but an “exploratory exercise”. He also said there is no “pre-set schedule” for meetings. The US Embassy did not respond.
Thursday (17), France spoke by videoconference with the head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken.
According to the State Department, Blinken discussed with France Brazil the climate goals, “double funding to eliminate illegal deforestation by 2030, and the need to support these goals with concrete short-term implementation measures.” “.
In a series of messages on Twitter, Itamaraty said the two “addressed the converging priorities of the two foreign offices: health diplomacy, economic recovery and the promotion of sustainable development.”
According to those following the case, there was no sign of a resumption of the round of negotiations between the Kerry auxiliaries, Itamaraty and the Environment.
A little over ten days after the last technical meeting, still in May, the Federal Police launched an operation against Salles and the now dismissed IBAMA president, Eduardo Bim.
The company is investigating suspicions of corruption, administrative law, embezzlement and smuggling facilitation offenses allegedly committed by public officials and businessmen in the timber industry.
The operation relates to information transmitted by the American government, which warned the Brazilian authorities of a shipment of illegal timber seized in the American port of Savannah (Georgia).
Salles denies having committed any irregularities. Since the start of the operation, the minister’s agenda has recorded a large number of days during which he only executes internal orders or has no official commitment.
Interlocutors interviewed by Folha said it was not possible to determine whether Kerry had decided to freeze negotiations due to the inquiry against Salles.
However, experts say the Biden administration may have found it embarrassing to sit down to negotiate with a minister accused of being involved in a timber smuggling program – even more so in an investigation launched on U.S. soil.
The minister’s situation is not the only source of mistrust in Washington.
At the Climate Summit in late April, Bolsonaro pledged to eliminate illegal deforestation in Brazil by 2030 and to double the resources available for environmental inspection in the country.
“Command and control measures are part of the response. Despite the government’s budget cuts, I decided to strengthen environmental agencies, doubling the resources allocated to inspection actions,” Bolsonaro said at the time. .
However, the day after the summit, Bolsonaro sanctioned the 2021 budget and cut 240 million reais from the Ministry of the Environment. At the end of May, Planalto sent a draft to Congress to restore the portfolio budget to 270 million reais.
The amount of devastation in the Amazon rainforest, in turn, has set records, increasing skepticism from Biden’s team about Bolsonaro’s real commitment to keeping his promise.
May was the worst month of warnings about deforestation in the Amazon in recent years, according to data from Inpe (National Institute for Space Research).
During the period, alerts were issued in an area corresponding to 1,391 km². The worsening of the clues led Bolsonaro to renew the presence of military forces in actions to protect the biome.
During negotiations with the Biden government, Salles had asked for donations from the United States to ensure the preservation of the Amazon. During the last tours, he even asked that a billion dollars be invested in actions of command and control and to pay for environmental services.
Washington had demanded results from the Bolsonaro administration before allocating larger amounts. In a first counter-proposal, the Biden government signaled with a contribution of US $ 5 million, an amount deemed insufficient by Salles.
In addition to halting environmental negotiations, the United States has sent signals that generate apprehension among aides advising Bolsonaro on foreign policy.
US Ambassador to Brazil Todd Chapman announced his retirement on June 10. Although the diplomat alleges personal reasons, his departure after just over a year in power has reinforced the perception in Itamaraty that Biden wants to change his approach with the Bolsonaro government.
Chapman had been criticized by members of the Democratic Party for too close a relationship with the Bolsonaro family.
People who follow the theme bet that the new elected must have solid operational references in the field of the environment. They also believe that John Kerry should be one of the main assistants consulted by Biden before the definition of the envoy in Brasilia.
Moreover, Itamaraty is following with concern the renewal of a special import mechanism by the US government, which, according to its interlocutors, could become another facet of the pressure on Brazil.
The United States Congress is reactivating the GSP (General System of Preferences), a program that benefits developing countries with zero import tax on certain goods. Brazil is a major user of GSP, with exports of around US $ 2.3 billion in 2019.
During the vote on the renewal of the program in the US Senate, lawmakers set the conditions for drawing up the new list of beneficiary countries. Among the requirements included are compliance with environmental laws and regulations and the absence of serious human rights violations.
The US House of Representatives has yet to confirm the vote.
The new requirements do not mean that Brazil will necessarily be excluded from the group of beneficiaries, since the task falls to the US executive. But in practice, senators have given the Biden administration a reason that can be used to penalize Brazil if Washington deems it necessary.