France couldn't prevent fire at Notre Dame cathedral in 2019 but accuses Brasilia of burning Amazon forests, says Economy Minister Paulo Guedes in his criticism of Paris.

Average annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased by 75 percent from the previous decade since 2019.
Average annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased by 75 percent from the previous decade since 2019. (AP Archive)

Brazil's economy minister has renewed a spat with France over deforestation in the Amazon, telling the European nation that it is becoming "irrelevant" and risks being told where to stick its criticism.

"We had a minister visiting from France one time. 'You're burning the forest,' he said. I told him, 'You're burning Notre Dame,'" Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said on Wednesday in a speech to the Brazilian Association of Bars and Restaurants in Brasilia.

Notre Dame, the medieval Catholic cathedral, caught fire in April 2019. 

"I mean, what an idiotic accusation. Notre Dame sits on one city block, and you couldn't stop it from catching fire. We have an area bigger than Europe and you're criticising us," he said, in video recordings of the event that went viral online.

"You better start treating us right or we're going to tell you to go f*** yourselves."

Guedes, an ultra-liberal economist who trained at the University of Chicago, said Brazilian trade with France had been dwarfed by that with China –– $7 billion versus $120 billion.

"You're becoming irrelevant to us," he said, insisting it was time for France to sign off on a proposed free-trade deal between the European Union and South American bloc Mercosur.

READ MORE: Europe stores shun Brazil beef over Amazon deforestation links

Bolsonaro-Macron heated words

The deal has stalled over European concerns that agricultural production in Brazil, the world's top exporter of beef and soy, is destroying the world's biggest rainforest.

Since Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, the average annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased by 75 percent from the previous decade.

Bolsonaro, who is up for re-election in October, exchanged heated words over the Amazon fires with Macron on social media in 2019.

It escalated into Bolsonaro sharing a supporter's Facebook post of side-by-side pictures of the two presidents' wives, with the caption: "Now you understand why Macron is persecuting Bolsonaro?"

Guedes jumped into that fray, too, calling Brigitte Macron "truly ugly."

READ MORE: Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon hits record for first half of 2022

Source: AFP