Sept. 19 (UPI) -- A proposed trade deal between the European Union and 11 South American nations now faces uncertainty after a key Austrian Parliament committee voted to reject it.
The draft trade deal was announced in June but tens of thousands of wildfires in the Amazon rain forest this summer has stirred concerns among EU nations. Threats to the farming sector are also a consideration for Austrian lawmakers' veto.
The EU agreed to the trade deal with the Mercosur, a trade bloc representing 11 South American nations. Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay are full members, while Guyana, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, Bolivia and Suriname are associate members.
France and Ireland had also expressed concern about the Amazon fires, and threatened to block the deal.
"The agreement would have been bad for our agriculture, but especially bad for climate protection and workers' rights in South America," Austrian lawmaker Jorg Leichtfried said.
Austria will hold elections on Sept. 29, after which members of the new administration could rescind the veto. Text of the proposed deal isn't expected to be complete until next year.
Former Austrian agriculture minister Elisabeth Koestinger said approving the deal would send the wrong message.
"The rain forest is burnt down in South America to create grazing land to then export discount beef to Europe," Koestinger said. "The EU mustn't reward that with a trade agreement."
Environmentalists said more than 70,000 fires have burned in the Amazon so far this year, an increase of 84 percent over last year. Amazon Watch, a California-based watchdog nonprofit, said the Brazilian government under Bolsonaro has been encouraging farmers to set the fires to create pastures.