Ecuardor's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino (L) and his Brazilian counterpart Antonio Patriota (AFP, Evaristo Sa)
MANAUS, Brazil — Eight South American countries pledged Tuesday to boost cooperation to protect one of the planet's largest natural reserves from deforestation and illegal trafficking in timber and minerals.
Representatives of Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela gathered in Manaus, northern Brazil, also vowed to speak with one voice at next June's UN conference on sustainable development in Rio.
The Amazon, the world's largest tropical rainforest, is one of the world's largest reserves of fresh water.
Tuesday's meeting involving signatories of the 1978 Amazon Cooperation Treaty (OTCA), focused on the Amazon Fund, a joint initiative launched in 2008 to combat deforestation and support conservation and sustainable development.
"The Brazilian government is committed to revitalizing the Amazon Cooperation Treaty (OTCA)," said Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota as he opened the one-day meeting. "A stronger OTCA is in the interest of member states."
Also present were his counterparts Ricardo Patino of Ecuador, Suriname's Winston Lackin, Venezuela's Ricardo Maduro as well as representatives of other OTCA parties.
They reviewed agreements signed to protect the Amazon and discussed navigation rules on the Amazon river and a joint stance at next year's Rio conference.
Earlier a Brazilian diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Brazil, which has the largest tract of Amazon rainforest, was keen on "expediting the process to implement the Amazon Fund."
The initiative has received donations of nearly $58 million (42 million euros) over the past two years, well short of the initial target of one billion dollars.
It notably seeks to improve satellite tracking of forest deforestation and environmental plans in border areas.
"Sharing forest data among Amazon countries will facilitate the adoption of coordinated policies to combat deforestation and will ensure that we are better prepared for international discussions on sustainable development," Patriota said.
Last year the Amazon lost 7,000 square kilometers (2,702 square miles), down from the historic peak of 2003-2004, when more than 27,700 square kilometers were deforested.
Officials say Amazon logging mainly results from fires, the advance of agriculture and cattle farming as well as illegal trafficking in timber and minerals.
Ecuador is meanwhile pushing an innovative proposal to combat global warming under which it would not exploit its oil reserves in the Amazon in exchange for international compensation of $3.6 billion dollars over 12 years.
Covering an area of seven million square kilometers, the Amazon is home to 40,000 plant species, millions of animal species and some 420 indigenous tribes, including 60 who live in total isolation.
According to OTCA, 38.7 million people live in the region, roughly 11 percent of the eight Amazon countries' population.