China’s Influence on Deforestation in Brazilian Amazonia: A Growing Force in the State of Mato Grosso

Amazonia, Brazil. Photo by Sébastien Goldberg via Unsplash.

China has become Brazil’s largest trading partner and the greatest source of export surplus from agricultural goods at $85 billion in 2011, contributing to Brazil’s economic growth and to reducing the country’s vulnerability to external economic crises. 

In a new working paper, Philip M. Fearnside and Adriano M.R. Figueiredo explore China’s influence on deforestation in the Brazilian Amazonia by examining China’s role in Brazil’s soy and beef sectors, particularly in Mato Grosso, a major source for soy and beef production.

Main findings:
  • Increases in Brazil’s exports to China are significantly associated with increased deforestation rates.
  • Alongside soybean production, cattle herd size is also associated with increases in deforestation.
    • While changes in pasture to soybean cropping would lead to deforestation, increase in cattle would lead to more pasture and deforestation associated with opening up new areas. 
  • Improved regulations mitigating environmental harm have led to declines in deforestation in recent years. 
  • However, an influx of money from the booming Chinese export market is reshaping the Brazilian political landscape, empowering the “ruralist” voting block representing large landowners, to push for relaxing environmental regulations.

Deforestation destroys potentially renewable resources, eliminates Indigenous and traditional cultures that predominated in the area and provokes losses of environmental services such as maintaining biodiversity, carbon storage and water cycling. To consolidate its gains against deforestation, especially during an agricultural export boom, the researchers suggest Brazil hold fast to its regulatory progress and resist the call to sacrifice long-term conservation goals for short-term export revenue.

Read the Working Paper