Nav: Home

KIT expert comments on current topic: Trade war imperils Amazon rainforest

March 28, 2019

Last year, the United States of America imposed tariffs of up to 25% on goods imported from China. The Chinese government reacted by imposing tariffs of 25% on US goods, including US soybeans. Exports of US soybeans to China in 2018 dropped by 50%, even though the trade war had begun in the middle of the year only. Replacement may be provided by Brazil. This might have dramatic impacts on the rainforest, KIT experts warn.

"As a consequence of the trade war, we fear large-scale deforestation in Brazil. In the past, exponential increase in global soybean demand regularly led to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest to create new cultivation areas. In 2016, China imported 37.6 million tons of soybean from the US, which now have to be supplied by other producers. Brazil is the only country which could satisfy Chinese demand quickly enough," says climate researcher Richard Fuchs. Together with his colleagues Calum Brown and Mark Rounsevell from the Atmospheric Environmental Research Division of KIT's Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research and other European scientists, he studies potential impacts and warns of the consequences in a comment of the Nature magazine.

Brazil is by far the largest producer of soybeans, followed by the US and Argentina. Around 90 other countries, including China itself, together produce just about as much soybeans as Brazil alone. In the course of the US-China trade war, China's soybean import from Brazil climbed to a new record value of 75%. Soy is a crop that is mainly used as animal feed in meat industry. To an increasing extent, it is applied for the production of biofuel.

"In our opinion, it is most likely that Brazil will ramp up its production to satisfy the additional Chinese soybean demand. To achieve that, Brazil needs to increase the current area of soybean production by up to 39%. This would require up to 13 million hectares of additional land, likely to be tropical forests and corresponding to an area similar to Greece. In 1995 and 2004, the country's two peak deforestation years, 3 million hectares of rainforest were lost each year. Taking these rates, it would require only four years to provide enough area for Chinese soybean consumption. We urge the United States and China to acknowledge their roles in indirectly driving deforestation and to accordingly modify their trade agreements by removing tariffs from soybeans."

Apart from quick countermeasures of the US and Chinese governments, the scientists comment, other measures might also contribute to reducing the pressure on the Amazon rainforest partly at least. China could buy more soy from Argentina or the European Union and, at the same time, soybean producers in these areas could try to increase their harvests. Europe, however, would have to reconsider its opposition to genetically modified soybeans that is presently preventing large-scale cultivation. In the scientists' opinion, China also should increase own production.

Since 2000, China's cultivation area has decreased by about 25%, because it is cheaper to import soy from Brazil and the US and because Chinese agriculture has been damaged strongly by high fertilization, soil erosion, and use of pesticides. Governments worldwide should attach higher priority to protecting the remaining Amazon rainforest and encourage the Brazilian government to enhance environmental protection in this region. If they fail, ambitious climate protection and biodiversity goals would be at stake.

To sustainably cope with this problem, however, Fuchs only sees one option: "Ultimately, global meat consumption has to be reduced. Such a change will not be reached by appeals, campaigns to change consumer behavior, or eco-labeling of sustainable production. In our view, ecological consequential costs need to be included in food costs. Also bioenergy products, such as biodiesel, have to become more expensive."

However, there is not much time left for the world's community to prevent massive deforestation in Brazil: "Governments, producers, regulators, and consumers must act now. If they do not, the Amazon rainforest could become the greatest casualty of the US-China trade war."
Click here for the comment in Nature:

URL:, DOI: 10.1038/d41586-019-00896-2

The Press Office of KIT will be pleased to establish contact to Richard Fuchs for further information. Please contact Dr. Martin Heidelberger, phone +49 721 608-21169, or the secretary's office, phone +49 721 608-47414, email

In the portal "KIT Experts" you will find other contact persons for highlights of KIT's research and daily news: (in German).

Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT)

Related Deforestation Articles:

Amazon basin deforestation could disrupt distant rainforest by remote climate connection
The ongoing deforestation around the fringes of the Amazon may have serious consequences for the untouched deeper parts of the rainforest.
Amazon rainforest may be more resilient to deforestation than previously thought
Taking a fresh look at evidence from satellite data, and using the latest theories from complexity science, researchers at the University of Bristol have provided new evidence to show that the Amazon rainforest is not as fragile as previously thought.
Human-induced deforestation is causing an increase in malaria cases
A new study of 67 less-developed, malaria-endemic nations led by Lehigh University sociologist Dr.
'Narco-deforestation' study links loss of Central American tropical forests to cocaine
Central American tropical forests are beginning to disappear at an alarming rate, threatening the livelihood of indigenous peoples there and endangering some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in North America.
Stanford study explores risk of deforestation as agriculture expands in Africa
Multinational companies are increasingly looking to Africa to expand production of in-demand commodity crops such as soy and oil palm.
More Deforestation News and Deforestation Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...