US, Brazil upbeat on climate after leaders meet and discuss Amazon rainforest

The United States was concerned about the Amazon as the "lungs of the hemisphere". PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Brazil's far-right leader said on Friday (June 10) that his country could expand agribusiness without harming the Amazon rainforest as he spoke highly of meeting United States President Joe Biden, who raised the issue of climate change.

"We don't need the Amazon to expand agribusiness," Mr Jair Bolsonaro told the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, where he met Mr Biden a day earlier.

Mr Bolsonaro has enraged environmentalists by championing large agricultural companies involved in the deforestation of the Amazon, a crucial "sink" for carbon emissions blamed for the planet's rising temperatures.

Mr Bolsonaro was one of the top international allies of former US president Donald Trump, even backing his baseless claims of fraud in his 2020 election loss, but praised Mr Biden.

The meeting was "simply fantastic", Mr Bolsonaro said.

A day after the meeting, Mr Bolsonaro and Mr Biden patted each other on the arms and appeared to exchange pleasantries as they posed for a group photo at the summit.

Mr Biden agreed to meet Mr Bolsonaro for the first time as the US tried to secure attendance at the summit, already marred by a boycott by the leftist president of Mexico - the second-most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also spoke highly of Mr Biden's meeting with Mr Bolsonaro.

The talks are "best described as constructive, an opportunity to address a lot of issues in the bilateral relationship right now", Mr Blinken told reporters.

He said that the US was concerned about the Amazon as the "lungs of the hemisphere" and that Mr Biden told Mr Bolsonaro that the US felt a need to help.

"We feel a responsibility to do that because over many, many, many generations, we were able to take advantage ourselves - for example, clearing forests in order to have agricultural production or industry before anyone understood the impact of climate change," Mr Blinken said.

The US is committed to offering financing and other support to ensure that countries "have the means not to further engage in deforestation or even to engage in reforestation", he said.

Mr Bolsonaro separately defended the response to the disappearance in the Amazon of a British journalist and a Brazilian indigenous expert after accusations that his government did not prioritise efforts.

"From the very first moment, our armed forces and police have tirelessly searched for these people," Mr Bolsonaro said.

Mr Bolsonaro is trailing in polls ahead of October elections to former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a leftist icon who was jailed on controversial corruption charges.

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