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Comment: Why the US-China trade war threatens the Amazon

This commentary argues that the recent imposition of trade tariffs between China and the United States could lead to increased tropical deforestation as other suppliers make up for the 50% fall in exports of soybeans from the US to China seen during 2018.

The piece notes that it is unlikely that China will either reduce its soybean consumption (because its demand for meat is growing) or increase its own soya production (because it has limited fertile cropland).

Besides the US, China’s largest suppliers of soybeans are Brazil and Argentina. The authors predict that the most likely future scenario is that Brazil will rapidly increase its soya production, which could require up to a 17% increase in the area of land cultivated for soybeans in Brazil.

The authors make the following policy recommendations:

  • Remove soya from tariffs
  • China should seek a wider variety of suppliers
  • Improve Brazil’s environmental protection schemes
  • Countries - not just China - should grow more of their protein crops locally
  • Reduce global meat consumption.



Fuchs, R., Alexander, P., Brown, C., Cossar, F., Henry, R.C. and Rounsevell, M., 2019. Why the US–China trade war spells disaster for the Amazon. Nature, 567, pp. 451-454.

Read the full paper here. See also the Foodsource chapter Focus: the difficult livestock issue.

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Latin America and the Caribbean

Latin America and the Caribbean occupies the central and southern portion of the Americas. The region is home to the world’s largest river (the Amazon River), the largest rainforest (the Amazon Rainforest), and the longest mountain range (the Andes). Export-oriented agriculture constitutes an important part of the economy, especially in Brazil and Argentina. This large continent has a range of climates spanning the ice of Patagonia, the tropical forests of much of the continent, and more temperate regions in, for example, Mexico and Chile. Due to the greatly differing geography and economic development in the continent, all types of agriculture can be found in Latin America. Subsistence farming and cash cropping with coffee, cocoa and so on are common in many nations including most of central America, whereas large-scale beef production in the cerrado of Brazil provides an example of hyper-large farms run by large businesses.

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