The rainforest begins directly behind the village school. Like a green wall, it rises behind the wooden buildings of Tres Unidos, a village of 150 inhabitants in northwestern Brazil, about an hour by speedboat on the Rio Negro from Manaus. Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) had the welcome of the indigenous population painted on his cheek, examined the solar panels on the roofs of the residential buildings, visited the purple-painted small hotel and finally the school.

Julia Löhr

Business correspondent in Berlin.

  • Follow I follow

But Habeck would not be Habeck if he only took the intended route. Suddenly, he is standing in the Brazilian jungle, black insects crawling over his sweaty white shirt. "We're constantly in office buildings, driving from A to B in company cars," he muses. "Once you have to try to break through this surface." In other words: Don't just talk about the rainforest, but go there.

The Amazon region is the third stop on Habeck's longest trip abroad to date. Their dominant theme is Mercosur, the free trade agreement between the EU and four South American states, which has been negotiated for a long time but has never been implemented. This year it should finally come, with binding additional agreements for the protection of the rainforest, so the Europeans hope.

Advocate of a social-ecological market economy

But Habeck is promoting more than just this agreement. He wants his understanding of a social-ecological market economy to be copied in other countries. First prosperity, then climate protection, that's no longer the way it goes, is his message at pretty much every appointment of this trip. The two must now go hand in hand. In Brazil, where an area larger than Baden-Württemberg has been cleared in the past three years alone, whether by gold miners or soy farmers, Habeck has much to gain. Or lose, depending on how it goes.

According to Habeck, things are going great. Since he took office at the turn of the year, the German government has been showering the new Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva with praise for wanting to stop the clearing of the rainforest by 2030. When Habeck stands in Belo Horizonte at the beginning of his journey in the hall of a German medium-sized company that builds electrolysers for the production of hydrogen, his pathos is hard to beat: "I could get tears in my eyes that a government is turning things around," he says.

Habeck is bringing an additional 50 million euros to Brazil as a gift for the protection of the rainforest. But it is not yet clear whether Lula will actually be able to implement his plan. He does not have a majority of his own in parliament. And then there is the question of whether Mercosur is capable of winning a majority in Europe at all.

In Germany, both farmers and environmental organizations are already making mood against it, some because of the fear of favorable competition, others out of concern that the sustainability clauses cannot be controlled anyway. There is also resistance in France and Austria. It is quite possible that Mercosur will become a second TTIP. Against the planned free trade agreement with the United States, tens of thousands once took to the streets until politicians buried the project.