The trade battle between the U.S. and China could exacerbate deforestation in the Amazon, an analysis published Wednesday in Nature warns.
Last year, the Trump administration imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods being imported to the U.S. China retaliated with a set of its own tariffs, including a 25 percent import tax on U.S. soybeans. To avoid paying higher prices, China cut soybean purchases from the U.S. by 90 percent and bumped up imports from Brazil to fill the gap.
Now, Brazil is responding by increasing soybean production, which means farmers might clear more land in the rainforest to make room for new crops.
“Massive deforestation of the Amazon over what’s already happening will have profound impacts on global attempts to mitigate climate change and protect biodiversity,” the report states.
If the tariffs continue, the researchers behind the report say, increased soybean production could cause up to 32 million acres of deforestation in the Amazon over the next several years — more land than in New York state. Aside from the ecological devastation, Brazil’s burgeoning soy fields could supplant American farmers and their exports. The researchers, from Germany and the UK, say major steps such as eliminating the tariffs as soon as possible must be swiftly taken to stop irreversible damage
Is ending the trade battle the solution?
The U.S. and China are taking steps to reduce trade tensions. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping reached a truce as their countries continue negotiations. As a result, China bought a large supply of soybeans in December, putting a damper on Brazil’s soybean exports.
Even if the tariffs ended tomorrow, the damage could already be done.
“A lot of trade is built on trust and networks,” Fuchs told the NewsHour. “Once this is damaged or even destroyed, I wonder if the Chinese wouldn’t learn a lesson from that in the future to diversify their supplier,” relying less heavily on the U.S. to meet its demand.
And eliminating tariffs will not halt the growing demand for soybeans throughout the world.
As the economies of developing nations grow, demand for meat, and the soybeans that go into animal feed, are likely to increase — putting further pressure on Brazil to expand its soybean production, anyway.
“There were already concerns about deforestation in the Amazon before the trade war, and I definitely agree that makes things worse, but there is still the underlying problem that needs to be addressed,” said Kimberly Elliott, a visiting fellow at the Center for Global development who focuses on trade policy and is not affiliated with the research team.
The main way to address it: reduce meat consumption. That is a heavy lift for many nations, including both Brazil and the U.S., which have some of the highest meat consumptions per capita in the world.