Norway, which is part of the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) grouping four non-EU members, on Saturday defended a trade pact with South America's Mercosur grouping saying it includes guarantees on preserving the Amazon rainforests.
The agreement with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) formed by Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, comes two months after Mercosur sealed a separate landmark trade deal with the European Union, which is yet to be ratified and appears under threat due to forest fires raging in Brazil.
"An important theme of the negotiations was the sustainable management of forests. Both sides committed themselves to fight illegal deforestation and protect the rights of the indigenous people," Economy Minister Torbjorn Roe Isaksen told a news conference.
This accord -- which has to be signed and ratified by the countries concerned "is in keeping with Norway's wishes for sustainable management, especially in the Amazon," he said, according to the NTB news agency.
Norway's foreign ministry meanwhile said in a statement that the accord provides for a "reciprocal commitment to respect the objectives of the Paris climate pact".
The free trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), signed in late June after 20 years of negotiations, has been widely criticised, particularly by the agricultural sector and environmentalists.
France conditioned its validation of the agreement on Brazil's compliance with certain environmental commitments that were discussed during the G20 summit in Japan.
EU Council president Donald Tusk said Saturday it was hard to imagine the bloc ratifying its trade pact with Mercosur as long as Brazil fails to curb the fires.
"It is hard to imagine a harmonious process of ratification by the European countries as long as the Brazilian government allows for the destruction of the green lungs of planet earth," he said.
Norway recently announced that it, like Germany, was blocking 30 million euros ($33 million) of subsidies to Brazil, accusing it of turning its back on the fight against deforestation.
Norway has been the single largest donor to the Amazon Fund for forest protection, giving almost 830 million euros since its creation 11 years ago, equivalent to almost 95 percent of total funding, with Germany providing most of the remainder.
"We cannot criticise Brazil for deforestation one day and the next negotiate a free-trade agreement as though nothing had happened," said Audun Lysbakken, the head of Norway's Socialist Left party.