Presidents of Brazil, France announce green investment plan on Amazon visit

French President Emmanuel Macron awards Kayapo leader Raoni Metuktire with the Legion of Honor on March 26, 2024 (Ludovic MARIN)
French President Emmanuel Macron awards Kayapo leader Raoni Metuktire with the Legion of Honor on March 26, 2024 (Ludovic MARIN)

French President Emmanuel Macron kicked off a visit to Brazil on Tuesday with the launch of a billion-euro Amazonian green investment plan alongside his counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The pair's trip to Belem, the northern host city of a major UN climate summit next year, makes Macron the first president of France to visit Brazil in over a decade and comes after a stop in nearby French Guiana.

His public event with Lula on the jungle island of Combu, full of smiles and affectionate gestures, highlighted the stark reversal of relations since the term of Jair Bolsonaro, Lula's far-right predecessor.

The former president had clashed with Macron's government over environmental destruction -- and even lobbed insults directed at French first lady Brigitte Macron.

The investment plan aims to raise "1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) of public and private investment over the next four years," according to a roadmap published by the French presidency ahead of next year's COP30 summit.

The leaders are seeking to promote "a great public and private global investment plan into the bioeconomy" in the Brazilian and Guyanese Amazon, the announcement said, especially as Brazil presides over the G20 for 2024.

France, the seventh largest economy in the world, and Brazil, the ninth largest, are considered key players in a geopolitical scene marked by rivalry between China and the United States.

Paris sees Brasilia as a bridge to large emerging economies whose voices Brazil is trying to amplify through its presidency of the G20, and membership of the BRICS+ group.

"We are living in a Franco-Brazilian moment," the Elysee presidential palace said earlier, highlighting "many points of convergence" with Lula, particularly on "major global issues."

"France is an essential, unavoidable actor for Brazilian foreign policy," said the head of Brazilian diplomacy for Europe, Maria Luisa Escorel de Moraes.

- Amazon chief honored -

Tuesday's announcement proposes the creation of a "carbon market," intended to reward countries which invest in natural carbon sinks, such as the Amazon rainforest.

The world's largest tropical forest plays a key role in the fight against climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide emissions.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon halved in 2023 after soaring under Bolsonaro, as Lula's government stepped up environmental policing.

The agreement also includes support for "indigenous people and local Amazon communities, which have an essential role in protecting biodiversity through their traditional knowledge and forest management practices," according to the announcement.

In Belem, Macron awarded tribal chief Raoni Metuktire with the Legion of Honor, the highest French distinction.

"The fight" for the forest and its peoples, "I wanted to say that we will continue to wage it alongside you," Macron told the chief.

Metuktire left his home in the Amazon more than 30 years ago to travel the world with his warning of the threats posed by the destruction of the rainforest.

A striking figure with his large wooden lip plate and yellow feather headdress, he has taken his message to popes, royals and presidents, with his stature as an environmental campaigner rising with growing awareness of the climate emergency.

- Mercosur and Ukraine -

France and Brazil are working together to manufacture four conventionally powered submarines, the third of which will be launched on Wednesday by both leaders at the Itaguai naval base, near Rio de Janeiro.

Brasilia could also call on Paris to help it develop nuclear propulsion on a fifth submarine.

Then there are the more sticky topics, such as the long-stalled free trade agreement between the European Union and South America's Mercosur bloc, which has recently run into fierce resistance from European farmers.

Macron said in January that France opposes the deal because it "doesn't make Mercosur farmers and companies abide by the same rules as ours."

While Lula is expected to reiterate his call for the rapid signing of the deal, both Paris and Brasilia have indicated the two-decade old negotiations would not be a major focus of Macron's trip, which includes meetings on Thursday in the Brazilian capital.

The war in Ukraine, which Macron wants to be a key focus of the G20, is another point of contention.

Lula, who has positioned himself as a champion of the "global South," has insisted that Kyiv and Moscow share responsibility over the conflict and has refused to take a stand against Russia.