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Brazil has taken a big step towards passing new laws that will loosen restrictions on the amount of Amazon rainforest that farmers can destroy, after its lower house of parliament voted in favour of updating the country's 46-year-old forest code. In a move described as "disastrous" by conservationists, the nation's congress backed a bill relaxing laws on the deforestation of hilltops and the amount of vegetation farmers must preserve. The law also offers partial amnesties for fines levied against landowners who have illegally destroyed tracts of rainforest. The legislation, which must still be passed by the Brazillian Senate and approved by President Dilma Rousseff, aims to help owners of smaller farms and ranches compete with under-regulated rivals in countries such as the USA and Argentina. At present, under Brazil's forest code passed in 1965, 80 per cent of all property in the Amazon basin is supposed to be left as untouched forest. In other parts of the country, that figure ranges from between 20 and 35 per cent, depending on the ecosystem of the particular region.