BRASÍLIA: Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Monday he would talk to his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron about the “hardening” of the European Union’s terms for a trade deal with South American bloc Mercosur.

The veteran leftist made the comment in an interview as he prepared to leave for a trip to Italy, the Vatican and France, during which he will also meet Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Pope Francis.

“I’m going to have lunch with Macron. I want to talk about the hardening of the EU-Mercosur deal,” Lula told public broadcaster TV Brasil.

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“The EU can’t try to threaten Mercosur with sanctions if we don’t do this or that. If we’re strategic partners, you can’t make threats… you have to help.”

The EU and the Mercosur nations – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – are trying to finalize a trade deal they sealed in 2019 after two decades of negotiations.

But ratification by the EU’s 27 members has stalled, notably over European concerns about Mercosur countries’ environmental protections – particularly in the Amazon rainforest, where deforestation surged under Lula’s predecessor, far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro.

The EU has proposed a so-called “side letter” with environmental guarantees.

But although Lula, who took office in January, has cast himself as the anti-Bolsonaro on environmental policy, he has been vocal in his criticism of the EU’s new demands.

European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said last week at a meeting with Lula in Brasilia that she was optimistic the deal could be finalized by the end of the year.

However, Lula told her Brazil still had “concerns.”

Lula, who will meet Pope Francis Wednesday, said he wanted to talk to the pontiff about “the problem of inequality” and efforts around a peace process to end the Ukraine war.

In France, Lula will participate Thursday and Friday in a summit of some 50 world leaders on global financing to tackle the interlinked challenges of climate change and poverty.

He is also due to give a speech on the environment Thursday at a star-studded concert in front of the Eiffel Tower featuring Billie Eilish, Lenny Kravitz and H.E.R.

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