The Battle for Brazil's Rainforest

Will proposed changes to Brazil's forest code set the Amazon on a path to speedier deforestation, as feared by many?

A new bill in Brazil seeks to relax the rules governing forest preservation in the Amazon.

The new forestry bill is a victory for Brazil's agricultural lobbies. An economic boom fuelled by high commodity prices has boosted their political influence.

They argue that existing laws are too strict - classifying the majority of farms as illegal and their owners, criminals.

Large parts of the Amazon forest destroyed in past decades have become productive farmland. Soy farms, for example, have helped make Brazil the world's second-biggest producer.

Many in President Dilma Rousseff's Workers Party back environmental causes but others want to further exploit Brazil's vast natural resources to speed up growth. Rousseff's government backs new dams, roads and mines in the Amazon.

The parliamentary vote however is being seen as a setback for the government. Officials close to the president say she is considering a veto of parts of the forestry bill.

Brazil established its forest code in 1936 and the current version has been on the books since 1965.

In less than two months the country will host a UN environmental conference to mark the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit of 1992. Environmental groups say the forest bill will speed up deforestation in a country with the world's largest rainforest.

So, are Brazil's actions setting a worrying environmental precedent? Will Rousseff try to preserve her environmental credentials by vetoing the forestry bill, or will she cave in to the powerful agricultural lobbies?

Joining the discussion on Inside Story Americas with presenter Shihab Rattansi are guests: Andrew Miller, an advocacy coordinator for Amazon Watch; Joao Augusto de Castro Neves, a Latin America analyst at Eurasia Group focusing on Brazil; and Mark London, a filmmaker and author who has extensively documented the changes in the Amazon region.

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