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Majority of EU countries ask bloc to scale back deforestation law

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By Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS, March 26 (Reuters) – Some 20 members of the European Union asked Brussels to scale back and possibly suspend the bloc’s anti-deforestation law on Tuesday, saying the policy would harm farmers, in the latest blowback against Europe’s environmental agenda.

The EU law aims to root deforestation out of supply chains for beef, soy and other agricultural products sold in Europe, so that European consumers are not contributing to the destruction of global forests from the Amazon to Southeast Asia.

Those rules equally apply to European farmers, who will be banned from exporting products cultivated on deforested or degraded woodlands.

Agriculture ministers from 20 of the EU’s 27 member countries supported a call by Austria to revise the law, at a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday, Austria’s agriculture minister Norbert Totschnig said.

“We now urge the Commission for a temporary suspension of the regulation allowing for a feasible implementation accompanied by a revision of the regulation,” Totschnig said in a statement.

Three EU officials confirmed to Reuters around 20 countries had backed the call in the closed-door meeting, with France, Italy, Poland and Sweden among the supporters.

EU leaders have watered down numerous environmental measures in an attempt to quell months of protests by angry farmers over issues including EU green policies and cheap imports.

A European Commission spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions on whether Brussels will now revise the law.

Austria’s demands include that the burden for certifying products as deforestation-free should be “drastically reduced” within the EU and that the Dec. 30 deadline for countries to start complying with the law should be delayed.

EU environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius had on Monday questioned why countries had raised concerns about the policy a few months before EU Parliament elections in June, when they had spent years negotiating the deforestation law and approved it last year.

“Of course, we will listen to the arguments, but I honestly don’t see any issues,” Sinkevicius told a news conference.

Farmers staged more protests in Brussels on Tuesday to coincide with the agriculture minister’s meeting, jamming the EU district with about 250 tractors and dropping sugar beets and hay on to the streets. (Reporting by Kate Abnett; additional reporting by Jake Spring, editing by Ed Osmond)

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