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In line with the development of international trade, environmental concerns have arisen as a global problem. International trade has the potential to increase environmental externalities such as transboundary pollution, deforestation, transportation and production relocation avoiding environmental standards. The share of agricultural goods in total export reached 15% in 2017. Since 2002, the proportion of unprocessed agricultural products have more than doubled, while the volume of processed goods in global trade has tripled. Despite the importance of agricultural trade worldwide, the number of studies exploring the trade-agriculture-environment nexus has so far been limited. This paper aims to provide an overview of the environmental impacts of agricultural trade based on the international economics literature published in recent years by way of a systematic literature review. Results suggest that most recent environmental studies do not view extended trade or trade liberalization in agriculture favourably. Only a limited number of papers state that a country or countries’ environment could benefit from agricultural trade, and only a few researchers have found that agricultural trade did not have any significant influence at all, or have instead found the effects on the environment to be ambiguous. Finally, the research reveals the most important consequences of pollution and offers potential solutions.
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Sustainability 2020, 12, 1152; doi:10.3390/su12031152
The Environmental Impacts of Agricultural Trade: A
Systematic Literature Review
Jeremiás Máté Balogh * and Attila Jámbor
Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development, Corvinus University of Budapest, Fővám tér
8, 1093 Budapest, Hungary;
* Correspondence:; Tel.: +36-1-482-5320
Received: 13 January 2020; Accepted: 4 February 2020; Published: 5 February 2020
Abstract: In line with the development of international trade, environmental concerns have arisen
as a global problem. International trade has the potential to increase environmental externalities
such as transboundary pollution, deforestation, transportation and production relocation avoiding
environmental standards. The share of agricultural goods in total export reached 15% in 2017. Since
2002, the proportion of unprocessed agricultural products have more than doubled, while the
volume of processed goods in global trade has tripled. Despite the importance of agricultural trade
worldwide, the number of studies exploring the trade-agriculture-environment nexus has so far
been limited. This paper aims to provide an overview of the environmental impacts of agricultural
trade based on the international economics literature published in recent years by way of a
systematic literature review. Results suggest that most recent environmental studies do not view
extended trade or trade liberalization in agriculture favourably. Only a limited number of papers
state that a country or countries’ environment could benefit from agricultural trade, and only a few
researchers have found that agricultural trade did not have any significant influence at all, or have
instead found the effects on the environment to be ambiguous. Finally, the research reveals the most
important consequences of pollution and offers potential solutions.
Keywords: agricultural trade; environmental pollution; climate change; water; global and local
1. Introduction
Agriculture faces new challenges such as feeding the world, meeting the demand for safe and
nutritious food in line with rising world populations, increasing urbanization and growing incomes.
Agriculture also generates jobs, and supports the livelihoods of billions of rural people across the
Earth, especially in developing countries. Moreover, agriculture plays a role in ensuring the
sustainability of natural resources and biodiversity, particularly in light of a changing climate [1].
Agricultural production and trade also need to catch up to meet the increasing demand for food in
developed and developing countries.
Global agricultural trade has grown significantly during recent decades and experienced an
annual growth of 6% from 2000 to 2016 [1]. Agricultural products show the most significant increase,
growing by 3.1% per year and rising by 36% from 2008 to 2018. The top 10 exporters of agricultural
products (European Union, the United States, Brazil, China, Canada, Indonesia, Thailand, India
Australia, Mexico) together accounted for 72% of total world exports in 2018 [2]. The most significant
increases in exports of agricultural products within the top 10 exporters were recorded by China (9%),
Brazil (6%) and Mexico (6%) in 2018 [2]. Emerging economies such as Brazil, China, India and
Indonesia were responsible for the majority of this growth as they accounted for 14.5% of global
export value in 2016, as compared with 8.5% in 2000 [1].
Sustainability 2020, 12, 1152 2 of 16
In line with the expansion of international trade, environmental concerns have emerged as a
global problem. International trade might foster environmental externalities (increasing pollution or
degradation of natural resources) and is responsible for production growth, transboundary pollution,
resource trade, transportation and production relocation avoiding environmental standards.
Furthermore, trade acceleration and liberalization may facilitate specialization in pollution-intensive
activities [3].
Agricultural trade also has indirect environmental effects as it displaces farmers onto marginal
lands leading to deforestation and soil erosion. In many developing countries, the area devoted to
export crops increases. In some cases, the environmental effects of shifting to export crops can be
significant and harmful. The trade of toxic wastes or endangered species has visible environmental
impacts [4].
Moreover, trade is also related to environmental pollution, associated greenhouse gas (GHG)
emission and climate change. Garsous [5] shows that carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion
were embodied in imports and exports for 63 countries and 34 industries between 1995 and 2011.
However, trade might also in some ways positively affect the environment. For instance, free
trade may lead to more effective environmental management, promote more efficient production,
reduce energy use and improve access to new technologies [3].
Despite the importance of agricultural trade in the world, studies exploring the environment-
trade-agriculture nexus generally address agricultural production as a potential source of
environmental pollution, thereby neglecting the role played by trade. Consequently, this paper aims
to provide an overview of the environmental impact of agricultural trade based on the international
economics literature published in recent years through a systematic literature review. The article aims
to analyse the environmental impacts of agricultural trade at global and local levels. Our research
questions are, therefore, as follows: What are the environmental impacts of agricultural trade? How
can these impacts be classified? What kinds of solutions exist to help handle the impacts?
In this study, we narrowed the scope of the research to agricultural trade, although it has to be
acknowledged that other factors—which are not addressed in this research—such as outdated
machinery, lack of technology, transition to environmentally friendly techniques and innovative
practices in the agricultural sector are also potential engines of pollution in developing and
developed countries.
The paper is structured as follows. Section 2 describes how our sample was constructed together
with some basic descriptive statistics. Section 3 shows the results of the review by different sections,
followed by our conclusions.
2. Materials and Methods
To obtain a comprehensive review of the environmental impacts of agricultural trade, an
extended online search was conducted using the following electronic databases: Scopus and Web of
Science. The combination of keywords “agri” and “trade” and “environment” (search string: TITLE-
ABS-KEY (agri AND trade AND environment) were used and the search had to appear in the title,
abstract or keywords. Only materials written in English were selected and the authors were
concentrated only on scientific journal articles—book chapters or books were dropped from the
dataset. We restricted our analyses for empirical articles published between 1990 and 2019.
The initial search obtained 168 entries, out of which 24 were duplicates, suggesting a generally
low number of articles written on the topic. To ensure that only relevant articles were included in the
final analysis, the online software Covidence was used. The screening was independent, but then the
authors met to discuss “conflicting” articles. This initial screening led to 57 articles being excluded.
The remaining 87 articles were also screened by both authors and then we ended up to 65 publications
relevant for the systematic literature review. Figure 1 provides an overview of the whole selection
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Figure 1. Overview of the literature selection process. Source: Own composition.
Based on the review of the relevant articles, we created 12 trade-related categories: the most
significant part of the studies dealt with trade-related climate change (38) and water use (10) issue.
The third most frequent sub-topic was trade and deforestation, which was followed by land-use
change (4) as well as trade liberalization (3). Besides, highly infrequent topics were found, such as
fish production and trade, the impact of trade agreements, phosphorus flows, food security,
filamentous green algae pollution, nitrogen trading, environmental regulation, and environment
protection. Figure 2 shows the main topics of the articles analysed.
Figure 2. Topics of the articles analysed. Source: own composition.
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Regarding the representation of countries considered in the selected empirical literature, the
United States (10) and China (9) were the two most popular countries analysed on the topic of the
trade-environment relation, followed by Mexico (6), the EU (5) and the South American region
(Brazil, Argentina). Most of the studies (21) interpreted the issue of environment and trade as a global
problem (Figure 3). In turn, many articles applied country or regional level of analysis indicating that
environmental pollution might have a local impact (e.g., deforestation, land-use change).
Figure 3. Frequency of countries and regions analysed in the environment and agri-trade literature.
Source: own composition.
Regarding the sub-regions analysed, four endangered regions were investigated by the
literature: Mato Grosso (Brazil), Amazonian rainforest (Brazil), Yangtze River region (China) and
Haihe River Basin (China). Both livestock and crop production was taken into consideration in the
literature as potential local engines of trade-related environmental pollution. Regarding the former,
meat and dairy products and fishery sectors were considered and as to the latter, maize production,
horticultural production (tomato, pepper, cucumber), banana export, water-intensive crops, soybean,
sugarcane, palm oil, rubber and coffee, green algae were also discussed. Finally, water-intensive
agricultural goods and biomass trade were correlated with environmental problems as well.
Regarding the proportion of the methodology used in the selected articles, economic modelling
was the most popular (66%), followed by descriptive statistics and graphical analysis (14%), while
qualitative techniques (1%) and case studies (1%) were applied to the least extent (Figure 4).
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Figure 4. Research methods used by literature. Source: own composition based on the sample.
3. Results
It is apparent from our sample described above that articles retrieved from the literature were
written on three main topics: ‘climate change’, ‘water use’ and ‘other issues’. Most of the studies
focused on trade-related climate change issues (GHG emission, deforestation, land-use change
induced by trade), while some of them analysed the effect of trade on water management and
pollution (irrigation system, trade of water-intensive products, virtual water trade). Finally, only four
of them investigated a different research topic from agricultural trade: carbon trade in Scotland [6],
consequences of stylized food security policies and globalization of agricultural markets [7],
filamentous green algae pollution [8] and reductions in N losses at the farm level [9].
The literature was analysed and categorized according to the following statements referring to
the distinct effect of agricultural trade on the environment:
Agricultural trade negatively affects the environment (indicates pollution),
Agricultural trade does not have a significant effect on the environment (pollution),
Agricultural trade has a positive (advantageous) influence on the environment (decrease
Agricultural trade might have ambiguous (a negative or a positive) impact on the environment
In total, 21 articles out of the 65 stated that trade or agricultural trade was damaging the
environment or causing pollution. In other words, these articles declared that trade contributed to
environmental pollution and stimulated climate change through GHG emission (Table 1).
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Table 1. Summary of articles by the various effects of agricultural trade on the environment.
Trade or Agricultural Trade is
Harmful to the Environment 1
Agricultural Trade Does not
Influence the Environment
Agricultural Trade Has Positive
Effects on the Environment
Ambiguous (Positive or Negative) Effects of
Agricultural Trade on the Environment Are Also
Abler and Pick (1993) Bourgeon and Ollivier (2012) Cors (2000) Antonelli et al. (2017)
Appendini and Liverman (1994) Beghin et al. (1997) Carter (1993) Belton and Little (2008)
Chakravorty et al. (2007) Eickhout et al. (2007) Dang and Konar (2018) Biewald et al. (2014)
Chang et al. (2016) Hassan (1997) Boerema et al. (2016)
Chaudhary and Kastner (2016) Leitao (2011) Martinez-Melendez
and Bennett (2016) Buckingham (1998)
Chen et al. (2019) Baker et al. (2018) Damodaran (2002)
De Oca (2008) Billen et al. (2015) Johansson et al. (2006)
Drabo (2017) Hallstrom et al. (2004) Saunders et al. (2006)
Flachsbarth et al. (2015)
ebli and Youssef (2017) Schmitz et al. (2013)
DeFries et al. (2013)
Henders et al. (2015)
Iriarte et al. (2014)
Lee and Zhang (2009)
Moon (2011)
Nesme et al. (2018)
Rauf et al. (2018)
Saikku et al. (2012)
Schmitz et al. (2015)
Yau et al. (2018)
Walters et al. (2017)
Weinzettel and Wood (2018)
1 Note: environment is defined as air, water, biodiversity and forest (flora and fauna), while trade is defined as trade in agricultural products (crops, livestock,
processed food products). Source: own composition.
Sustainability 2020, 12, 1152 7 of 16
It should be mentioned that usually, a local impact (soil erosion or GHG emission) of a global
factor (agricultural trade) causes more problems for a given nation or country than for the whole
world. In this research, we interpreted agricultural trade as being an international, global or regional
phenomenon, whereas in contrast, environmental pollution is often responsible for local problems
analysed by the articles.
3.1. Studies Analysing the Negative Effects of Trade on the Environment
Most of the articles in the selected literature highlighted the negative effects of agricultural trade
on the environment (stimulating climate change and environmental pollution) locally. On the one
hand, trade expansion along with agricultural production and industrialization were the major
engines of pollution globally. On the other hand, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, drier climate,
deforestation, land-use change, losses in ecosystem services were found to be the major consequences
of trade locally.
Appendini and Liverman [10] described how agricultural policy and climatic conditions had
influenced maize production and food security in Mexico. The authors suggested that global
warming presented a threat to local and national food security when farmers were unable to adapt
to a drier climate or if importing from other regions became more expensive. Saunders et al. [11]
investigated bilateral trade between New Zealand and the EU and suggested that trade liberalisation
increased greenhouse gas emissions on the New Zealand side but decreased on the EU side. Similarly,
Lee and Zhang [12] suggested that trade liberalisation caused higher energy use and carbon
emissions to rise, which was especially a problem in poor developing countries.
Among others, Schmitz et al. [13] showed that trade liberalisation led to the expansion of
deforestation in Amazonia. Furthermore, in line with Lee and Zhang [12] and Schmitz et al. [13],
Flachsbarth et al. [14] pointed out that further trade liberalization would lead to more environmental
pressures in some regions across Latin America.
Following the authors above, Moon [15] was against free trade in agriculture and showed that
free trade was not able to solve the differentiated problems of countries and regions related to the
environment. Besides, Rauf et al. [16] found that trade openness was worsening the environment in
The environmental effects of virtual water trade were investigated by many articles (Zhao et al.
[17], Zhang et al. [18]). On the one hand, Zhao et al. [17] discovered that virtual water embodied in
exported and imported products, especially those who were re-exported, changed water footprint
and balance to a significant extent in China. On the other hand, Zhang et al. [18] suggested that China
was a virtual net water exporter accounting for 2.1% of its renewable and 8.6% of its total water use.
Land-use ch ange related to ca rbon emission was also revealed as the main contributor to climate
change. In this context, Saikku et al. [19] analysed the effect of biomass trade on the land-use change
as well as carbon emissions and suggested that 15–32% of total agricultural land and emissions
associated with land-use change in Brazil and Indonesia were due to bovine meat and palm oil
exports. In addition, DeFries et al. [20] confirmed that the ecological, hydrological and social
consequences of land-use change for export-oriented agriculture were applicable in about one-third
of all tropical forest countries in 2000–2005. From the ecological perspective, Henders et al. [21]
indicated that land-use change and carbon emissions associated with the production and exports of
forest-risk commodities highlighted the growing influence of global markets in deforestation
In a few studies, banana trade was mentioned as a significant component of carbon emission.
Iriarte et al. [22] stated that the principal contributors to the carbon footprint were found to be on-
farm production and overseas transport in the case of banana export from Ecuador. To confirm this,
Walters et al. [23] inferred that the abandonment of land due to banana trade restrictions was
favourable to the environment.
Last but not least, a large magnitude of losses in tropical ecosystem services through
international trade in Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Malaysia and Vietnam were confirmed by
Chang et al. [24].
Sustainability 2020, 12, 1152 8 of 16
Chaudhary and Kastner [25] analysed the impact of trade on biodiversity and found that 17% of
total species loss was devoted to domestic consumption. Exports from Indonesia to USA and China
embodied the highest environmental impacts (20 species lost at the regional level). They added that
industrialized countries with high per capita GDP tended to be major net importers of biodiversity
from developing countries from the tropical region.
A limited amount of studies dealt with emissions associated with domestic consumption and
meat consumption. Drabo [26] highlighted that the proportion of primary commodity export in
agricultural production increased greenhouse gas emissions. Yau et al. [27] showed that trade-related
emissions to the consumption of meat and dairy products were higher than Hong Kong’s total
greenhouse gas emissions.
Chakravorty et al. [28] investigated the relationship between agricultural industrialization and
the environment focusing on livestock production in developing countries. Moreover, they argued
that environmental degradation caused by agricultural industrialization may pose major problems
on production intensity, resulting in generally lower public health standards in urban areas of
developing countries. Moreover, they emphasised that globalization and expanding the free trade
regime in the world called for an urgent need for developing countries to install inspection and
enforcement mechanisms to minimise the adverse effects of trade on the environment.
Finally, Weinzettel and Wood [29] and Nesme et al. [30] pointed out the harmful effects of trade
expansion. Nesme et al. [30] analysed the role of agricultural trade in global phosphorus flows and
found an eight-fold increase in global phosphorus flows through trade from 1961 to 2011, generally
making phosphorus exporters susceptible to the volatility of the mineral phosphorus fertilizer
market. Furthermore, Weinzettel and Wood [29] evaluated the carbon footprint of Chinese exports
and showed that domestic consumption decreased the footprint of international trade.
3.2. No Significant Effect of Agricultural Trade on the Environment
Only a few studies (4 of 65) suggested that agricultural trade did not affect environmental
pollution and hence climate change. Regarding the US example, Ervin [31] discussed the effects of
liberalised trade on environmental quality and made conceptual and empirical contributions
regarding NAFTA and GATT. In line with this type of research, Beghin et al. [32] did not find
evidence of wholesale environmental degradation in agriculture induced by free trade in Mexican
agriculture. Furthermore, Chen et al. [33] explored that the inter-industry association mainly
promoted the embodied carbon outflow in the Yangtze River (China). They highlighted the role of
the consumer’s responsibility in reducing trade-related emission. As a final point, Bourgeon and
Ollivier [34] concluded that trade liberalisation either increased or decreased worldwide emissions
depending on regional comparative advantages compared to autarky at country level.
3.3. Agricultural Trade Has a Positive (Advantageous) Effect on the Environment
The second biggest group of articles (10) argued that agricultural trade, in certain cases, might
have a positive effect on the environment, and may help to reduce environmental pollution. Carter
[35] in this regard showed that shifting food production from rich to poor countries would reduce
global agricultural pollution, therefore, freer trade is said to be more environmentally friendly.
Following Carter [35], Hassan [36] added that trade liberalisation for agricultural products led to
environmental improvement as their production associated with environmental externality.
What is more, Leitao (2011) [37] found a negative relationship between carbon dioxide emissions
and intra-industry trade by analysing the relationship between agricultural intra-industry trade and
the environment in the US. In addition to Leitao [37], Billen et al. [38] underlined that in the most
deficient regions (the Maghreb, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and India), with less recourse
to inter-regional trade generally produced fewer N losses to the environment, improving agricultural
In addition, Cors [39] confirmed that trade and environmental agreements aspired to be
mutually supportive, but to do so, this requires substantial harmonisation between agreements at the
Sustainability 2020, 12, 1152 9 of 16
international level. Moreover, Martinez-Melendez and Bennett [40] revealed that the US-Mexican
crop trade reduced the environmental costs of agriculture between the two countries.
In their research, Jebli and Youssef [41] presented that increase of international economic trade
gave new opportunities to the agricultural sector in Tunisia to develop and to benefit from technology
transfer of renewable energy, enabling it to become more competitive on the international markets
and polluting less.
By evaluating the impacts of climate change, Baker et al. [42] highlighted that freer trade plays
an important role in helping to buffer regional productivity shocks by applying a global model of
agriculture and forestry on US agriculture and in the rest of the world.
Likewise, Dang and Konar [43] demonstrated that trade openness led to less water use in
agriculture, reducing resource usage. Finally, Hallstrom et al. [44] showed that trade was crucial in
realising the potential benefits of climate prediction.
3.4. Agricultural Trade Might Have Positive or Negative Effect on the Environment
Nine papers (Buckingham [45], Damodaran [46], Johansson et al. [47], Eickhout et al. [48],
Schmitz et al. [49], Boerema et al. [50], Biewald et al. [51], Antonelli et al. [52], Belton and Little [53])
induced that there was a bidirectional, a positive or negative effect of agricultural trade on the
environment, focusing mainly on environmental regulations and policy.
On the one hand, Buckingham [45] examined the historical development and treatment of
environmental measures under the Agreement of World Trade Organization (between the United
States, Mexico, Canada, and the EU). He concluded that it should reorient the acrimonious
trade/environment debate to one which was less adversarial and more focused on achieving
ecosystem health while continuing to improve international market access and trade relations.
On the other hand, Damodaran [46] stressed the integration of national and global
environmental concerns with trade-related environmental regulations in the broader interests of
sustainable agriculture in developing countries. In addition to that, he pointed out the biodiversity
conservation needed to be institutionalised in terms of national laws and local community
interventions. Moreover, the critical task is to secure the integration of national and global
environmental concerns with trade-related environmental regulations.
Among others, Johansson et al. [47] analysed how the elimination of agricultural policy
distortions would affect the liberalisation of global agricultural trade as well as the environmental
quality in the United States. Their results suggested that environmental impacts stemming from trade
shocks would fall within the average annual variation with different impacts by region and sector.
Moreover, Eickhout et al. [48] concluded that environmental and trade agreements must be
sufficiently integrated or coordinated to working together to improve the environment and attain the
benefits of free trade.
Regarding negative effects, in South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, Schmitz et al. [49]
found evidence of increased water scarcity and water price decreases coinciding with increasing
trade liberalisation. They recommended shrinking livestock consumption in developed countries as
a potential solution for the environmental problem. In addition to the negative effects, the impact of
increasing production of soybean in exporting countries (deforestation and grassland conversion) as
well as in importing regions (decrease in permanent grassland by substitution of grass as feed) in
Brazil and Argentina were analysed by Boerema et al. [50]. They proved that consumption choices in
one region have real effects on the supply of ecosystem services at a large spatial scale.
Three articles concentrated on the relationship between trade and water use (Belton and Little
[53], Biewald et al. [51], Antonelli et al. [52]). In the Middle East and South Asia, Biewald et al. [51]
discovered that countries profit from trade by importing water-intensive crops from Southern
Europe. On the other hand, export water-intensive agricultural goods from water-scarce sites were
deteriorating local water-scarcity.
Researching the intra-EU agricultural trade and the virtual water flows, Antonelli et al. [52]
concluded that international agricultural trade influenced water management, and the virtual water
trade in the EU was dominated by only a few countries. In Thailand, Belton and Little [53]
Sustainability 2020, 12, 1152 10 of 16
demonstrated that both sustainable integrated fish culture and unsustainable intensive small-scale
inland shrimp culture were the outcomes of the globalization process.
3.5. Effect of NAFTA on the Environment
Only two articles were dedicated to measuring the environmental effects of NAFTA (North
American Free Trade Agreement) between the US and Mexico. Abler and Pick [54] concluded that
NAFTA was likely to be harmful to Mexican horticulture into a minor degree and beneficial for the
U.S. In accordance, De Oca [55] highlighted that NAFTA enhanced energy trade along with the
production of greenhouse gases (GHG). By contrast, greater corn trade produced deforestation and
biodiversity loss in Mexico. In sum, NAFTA seemed to be damaging to the environment of Mexico
and was more beneficial for the US (Table 2).
Table 2. Effects of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) on the environment.
The Environmental Effects of NAFTA Countries Where Environmental
Problems Are Caused by NAFTA
Main Beneficial
Countries of
NAFTA is likely to be harmful to Mexican horticulture in
a minor degree, and beneficial for the U.S.
Mexico United States
NAFTA via energy trade enhancing the production of
greenhouse gasses (GHG) at the global level
NAFTA increased the potential of consumption of fossil
NAFTA has been characterized by a flow of energy
resources from Canada and Mexico to the US
greater corn trade caused deforestation and biodiversity
loss in Mexico
poor farmers expanded their agricultural activity into
marginal forest and jungle areas to compensate
themselves for its income lost
Source: own composition.
3.6. Negative Consequences of Free Trade on the Environment
Trade acceleration and trade liberalization are considered as significant drivers of
environmental impacts in the literature. Authors mentioned many factors of environmental pollution
as negative consequences of free trade (Table 3) such as increasing GHG emissions, enhanced
fertilizer use, threat to local and national food security, tropical deforestation and biodiversity loss,
expanded agricultural activity in marginal forest and jungle areas, groundwater exhaustion, loss of
species and drier climate (e.g., in Mexico and around Yellow river China).
Most negatively influenced countries were usually developing countries (China, Indonesia,
India, Mexico, Brazil, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam) or least developed poor regions (the Maghreb,
the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean). A significant amount of CO2
emissions from land-use change were associated with exports from Brazil and Indonesia. Remarkable
biodiversity loss mainly was observed in Africa and South America (especially in Brazil and Mexico).
By contrast, particularly developed countries such as the EU, the U.S. benefited the most from
the positive environmental effect of trade (e.g., biofuel, soybean and palm oil trade).
Table 3. The environmental concerns caused by trade.
The Major Consequences and Climate
Threats Caused by Trade
Countries and Regions Where
Environmental Problems Are
Caused by Trade
The Main Beneficiary of
Positive Environmental Impact
of Trade
increasing GHG emissions Countries EU
enhanced fertilizer endangering the
local and national food security China, Indonesia, India USA
significant environmental degradation New Zealand, developed countries
Sustainability 2020, 12, 1152 11 of 16
deforestation, tropical deforestation
and biodiversity loss Mexico, Brazil, the Middle East and South Asian
poor farmers expand their agricultural
activity into marginal forest and jungle
Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam
groundwater exhaustion Saint Lucia
loss of species
drier climate Regions
deteriorating local water scarcity Poor developing countries,
the Middle East,
sub-Saharan Africa, Maghreb,
Latin America, Amazonia,
Source: own composition.
3.7. Potential Solutions for Trade-Related Negative Impacts
The literature analysed also declared which activities were responsible for the negative
environmental effects of international (agricultural) trade (Table 4). On the one hand, most of the
articles were linked with consumer’s demand, domestic consumption or consumption choices as
important factors setting the level of the trade-pollution nexus. In this context, shrinking livestock
consumption in developed countries would be a potential solution for the environmental problem.
On the other hand, trade-related environmental regulations also played a vital role in controlling the
degree of environmental degradation. In consequence, trade and environmental agreements aspired
to be mutually supportive but require substantial harmonisation between agreements at the
international level.
Various solutions were suggested in the reduction of trade-related pollution in the selected
literature. The most important solutions would be classified as consumer’s demand, policy and
regulation and R&D related issues (Table 4). First, the United States and China urged co-operating to
protect their agricultural resource bases [56]. Second, large investments in new technologies or the
adoption of precision agriculture as well as the adoption of sustainable technologies, modern natural
resource management [14] can mitigate the growth of the harmful effects of trade.
Furthermore, more R&D investments in the agricultural sector (including, nutrients, pests, water
and soils management, and improving plants’ performance in semi-arid conditions and salty soils) is
also needed [14] for reducing damaging effects. Finally, there is an urgent need for a more
comprehensive, integrated approach to estimate the global impacts of food trade on the environment
research and to improve the evaluation of key aspects of valuating resources depending on the local
and regional biophysical and socio-economic context [57]. Last but not least, the applicability in
decision-making, scenario analyses and accounting of deforestation and groundwater exhaustion
will be still required in order to evaluate the pollution caused losses [57].
Table 4. The polluting activities and the solutions for mitigating environmental effects of trade.
Agricultural Activities/Sectors As Major
Contributors to Environmental Problems
Solutions for Reducing the Negative Effects of International Agricultural
Trade on Environmental Pollution
Activities Demand side, changing consumption habits
agricultural industrialization in
developing countries
consumers, domestic consumption, consumer choices
livestock production shrink livestock consumption in developed countries
primary commodity export Policy and regulation
overseas transport of agricultural
changing trade-related environmental regulations
water-intensive agricultural goods harmonization of environmental regulation
Technology and innovation
sectors adoption of precision agriculture
global corn production and trade large investments in new technologies
Sustainability 2020, 12, 1152 12 of 16
international banana trade
adoption of sustainable technologies, good natural resource
increasing bovine meat and palm oil
investments in R&D in the agricultural sector (including, nutrients,
pests, water and soils management, and improving plants’
performance in semi-arid conditions and salty soils)
unsustainable intensive small-scale
inland shrimp culture
applicability in decision-making, scenario analyses and accounting of
deforestation and groundwater exhaustion will be required
intensive aquaculture and fisheries
a more comprehensive, integrated approach is needed to estimate the
global impacts of food trade on the environment research is needed
sugarcane, palm oil, rubber and
coffee production
meat and dairy production
biomass trade
Source: own composition.
Finally, the environmental impacts of agricultural trade might appear at global (e.g., GHG
emission) or regional level (e.g., land use). Frequently cited research gives insights as to the local
impact of the global phenomena (expanded agricultural trade, free trade agreements), and as a result,
our findings shed light on local problems and solutions.
4. Conclusions
The research addressed the environmental impacts of agricultural trade analysed through a
systematic review of relevant literature published in recent years. In this analysis, we interpreted
agricultural trade as an international, global phenomenon, however, environmental pollution was
often investigated at a local, regional level by the articles.
Based on the results of the literature review, most of the studies do not indicate a positive role
of expanded agricultural trade or trade liberalisation in relation to the environment. Only a few
scholars agreed that countries’ environment could benefit from trade expansion or trade
liberalisation. In addition, few researchers found that agricultural trade did not have a significant
effect at all, or that it had a bidirectional effect (positive or negative) on environmental pollution or
climate change.
The US, China, Mexico and Brazil were the most popular countries considered in the trade-
environment nexus. The literature analysed suggested that crop (e.g., palm oil, rubber, coffee,
soybean and biofuel), livestock and processed food sectors (meat, bovine meat, dairy products and
fishery) were all responsible for environmental degradation in many countries.
Soil erosion, excessive water use in agriculture, water scarcity, deforestation and biodiversity
loss are discussed as the major problems associated with accelerating trade in agri-food products.
With trade liberalisation, increased water scarcity was reported in South Asia, Southeast Asia and
the Middle East. In Brazil and Argentina, the negative impact of growing soybean production in
exporting countries (deforestation and grassland conversion) as well as in importing regions
(decrease in permanent grassland by substitution of grass as feed) were revealed.
The increasing GHG emissions and enhanced fertilizer use were also significant consequences
of trade acceleration stimulating global warming and climate change.
Furthermore, tropical deforestation and biodiversity loss, expanded agricultural activity in
marginal forest and jungle areas were explored in many developing countries as Brazil, India,
Indonesia and Sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, groundwater exhaustion, loss of species, and drier
climate all were the most important results of trade-related pollution in Africa and South America.
Articles investigating the role of NAFTA on the environment suggested that the agreement was
rather harmful to Mexico and beneficial for the United States.
Several potential solutions were proposed by the literature in the reduction of trade-related
environmental pollution. The literature points out that consumption choices in one region had real
effects on the supply of ecosystem services at a large spatial scale. In particular, developed countries
such as the EU, the U.S. benefited the most from the positive environmental effect of agricultural
trade. Therefore, from the consumer’s point of view, scholars underlined that shrinking livestock
Sustainability 2020, 12, 1152 13 of 16
consumption especially in developed countries would significantly help to reduce environmental
From the production side, the large investments in new technologies or the adoption of precision
agriculture as well as sustainable technologies and good natural resource management can mitigate
the growth of the negative effects of agricultural trade. Furthermore, increasing agricultural R&D
investments (including nutrients, pests, water and soils management, and improving plants’
performance in semi-arid conditions and salty soils) are also needed.
Results suggest that trade-related environmental regulations played a key role in controlling the
degree of environmental degradation, motivating sustainable technologies. At the policy level,
environmental and trade agreements must be sufficiently integrated at the national and international
level to improve the quality of the environment and attain the benefits of free trade.
Last but not least, environmental improvement, growing renewable energy use, technology
transfer and sustainable integrated fish culture were mentioned as the positive effect of globalized
trade. Finally, some authors emphasized that intra-industry and inter-regional trade generally
produced less pollution in the environment.
Author Contributions: Conceptualization, J.B. and A.J.; methodology, J.B. and A.J.; software, J.B. and A.J.;
validation, J.B. and A.J.; formal analysis, J.B. and A.J.; resources, J.B. and A.J.; data curation, J.B. and A.J.; writing-
original draft preparation, J.B. and A.J.; writing-review & editing, J.B. and A.J.; visualization, J.B. and A.J.;
supervision, J.B. and A.J.; project administration, J.B. and A.J.; funding acquisition, J.B. and A.J. All authors have
read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.
Funding: This research was supported by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office, Hungary,
Project No. 128232 ‘Analysing the Environmental Effects of International Agro-food Trade’ and 119669
‘Competitiveness of Agriculture in International Trade: A Global Perspective’. The authors gratefully
acknowledge the financial support.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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Understanding the dynamics of food trade, which involves a corresponding virtual trade in environmental resources, is relevant for its effects on the environment. Among the socioeconomic factors driving the international food market, trade agreements play a significant yet poorly understood role in facilitating access to worldwide trade. Focusing on the global trade of grain from 1993 to 2015, we investigate the role of trade agreements in activating new linkages and increasing traded volumes and their environmental implications. Through a data-driven approach, we show that the activation of a trade agreement among countries induces a more than six-fold increase in the probability of establishing a new link. Also, the presence of a trade agreement over time, not just its activation, relates to a more stable market since it reduces the probability of link deactivation by more than half. The trade links covered by agreements show larger flows and smoother inter-annual fluctuations. Furthermore, trade agreements encourage the development of more water-efficient flows by stimulating the exchange of crops with high water productivity values. The average economic water productivity of crops traded under trade agreements increases by 62% when considering total virtual water and even by 93% when focusing on blue water.
Penggunaan pestisida dan pupuk kimia mengakibatkan kerusakan pada unsur organik tanah. Tulisan ini bertujuan untuk mendeskripsikan edukasi dan sosialisasi tafsir ayat-ayat ekologi dan mengimplementasikannya dalam sistem pertanian hidroponik sebagai metode pertanian yang ramah lingkungan. Metode pengabdian yang digunakan adalah Asset Based Communities Development (ABCD) dengan mitra Santri Pondok Pesantren Ma’arif NU Metro Lampung. Kegiatan yang dilakukan dalam pengabdian adalah menjelaskan penafsiran ayat-ayat ekologis dan relevansinya dengan teknologi hidroponik, penempatan instalasi hidroponik DFT, sosialisasi dan edukasi pembuatan dan instalasi hidroponik DFT, pelarutan nutrisi AB Mix dan aplikasinya, sosialisasi dan edukasi semai bibit Pakcoy dan kangkung, sosialisasi dan edukasi pengaturan nutrisi. Terdapat dinamika keilmuan, baik dalam bidang pertanian dan pondok pesantren. Dalam dunia pertanian, penggunaan teknologi hidroponik DFT dengan Nutrisi Ab Mix memiliki kelebihan dalam efisiensi nutrisi dan minimnya limbah pertanian di banding pertanian konvensional. Di sisi lain campuran AB Mix dan fermentasi kotoran kambing disinyalir menghasilkan hasil panen yang lebih baik. Dalam dunia pondok pesantren, penempatan instalasi hidroponik merupakan upaya untuk mengontrol kegiatan santri di pondok dan upaya menangkal radikalisme karena adanya kolaborasi antara warga sekitar dan pihak pesantren, khususnya dalam pengelolaan tanaman dan distribusi hasil pertanian secara inklusif
Driven by several factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic and armed conflicts around the world, global hunger is growing again. Recent estimates suggest that in 2050 we will have a population of about 10 billion, with an expected increase in the global food demand by 35%–56% between 2010 and 2050. With these premises, feeding people around the world without harm the planet appears quite challenging. In this scenario, public authorities and non-governmental actors have an important role to play in achieving sustainable food security, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations 2030 Agenda. This chapter aims to briefly describe the framework of actions that may be taken in the agricultural sector to achieve food sustainability and security goals by 2030.
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Agriculture takes an important role for economy by more than 14% of economic contribution. Nevertheless, it has indirective effects, where it has commonly a negative impact, but somehow in the l o ng term, offers a better environmental service. This study, therefore, aimed to evaluate both impact by estimating the Indonesia food barn to estimate how far the impact to environment through the Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC). In order to improve the environmental quality in the long t erm, t he sustainable practices through ecolabelling product have to be conducted. Thus, the evaluation of consumers' WTP for ecolabelling product has been observed through 300 respondents depic ting t heir preferences. Following by AHP analysis to construct the priority of strategies to develop t he sustai nable agriculture. Based on the results, EKC model showed it initially leads to environmental damage, but at a certain level, people begin to increase environmental awareness by a decrease of methane (CH4) abo ut 0.12%. It is proved by their WTP where 82.6% respondents were willing to pay for ecolabell ing pro duc t. Finally, to support sustainable agriculture, reforming the market access is a top pri orit y (0. 312 poi nt s) which aimed to progressively encourage the farmers' supply. Otherwise, the pricing strategy beco mes t he consumers' main perspective to buy (0.264 points).
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The middle reaches of the Yangtze River are the first demonstration zone for low-carbon urbanization in the midwest regions of China, and the division of carbon emission reduction responsibility is an important aspect of construction of ecological civilization. In this paper, the embodied carbon emissions in trade are estimated by using an input–output model in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, and then a structural decomposition analysis (SDA) model is further applied to conduct decomposition analysis on factors of embodied carbon changes. Our primary findings show the following: (1) Production-based CO2 emissions from Hubei and Hunan are higher than consumption-based CO2 emissions. There are situations in Jiangxi and Anhui where production-based CO2 emissions are both higher and lower than consumption-based CO2 emissions. However, inter-regional trade implied carbon is dominated by net inflows. Moreover, the inter-regional embodied carbon emissions in trade mainly flow out to relatively developed regions, such as Jiangsu and Shanghai. The inflow of embodied carbon in trade comes mainly from relatively backward economic development areas, such as Shaanxi and Inner Mongolia. (2) From the perspective of industry, industries in Jiangxi and Anhui are dominated by net inflow, whereas industries in Hunan and Hubei are dominated by net outflow. Meanwhile, industry in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River displays a high carbon-locked phenomenon. Specifically, the high carbon-locked outflow industries are mainly concentrated in the transportation and warehousing industry, agriculture, and the chemical industry, and the outflow provinces flow out mainly to Jiangsu, Guangdong, and other economically developed regions; high carbon-locked inflows are concentrated in metal smelting and rolling processing, food manufacturing and tobacco processing, and construction, and the provinces are mainly Hebei, Henan, and Inner Mongolia, where economic development is lacking. (3) Furthermore, the results of SDA decomposition indicate that scale effect is generally the most important factor leading to embodied carbon outflow. Meanwhile, the energy carbon emission effect, the energy intensity effect, and the structural effect are important factors—the inter-industry association effect mainly promotes the embodied carbon outflow. Consequently, based on the distinction between production and consumer responsibility, and from the perspective of scale effect and structural effect, the related policy suggests that consumers should be held responsible.
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The preface of Chinese opens up reforms in 1978, posed a new era of progression that intensively sparked the industrial revolt in China, which momentously worsen its atmosphere by carbon emission. The current study examines the nexus among the variables; energy consumption, economic growth, agriculture value added, industrial value added, service value added, trade openness, financial development, urbanization, and environmental degradation (CO2 emission) in China, spanning from 1968 to 2016. Autoregressive Distributed Lag (ARDL) bound testing model, applied to capture the essence of estimation in short-run and the long-run. Estimations for the long run and short run portrayed that Industry, agriculture, services, energy consumption, and trade openness worsening the environment, however, the growth and urbanization ensure the clean and prudent environment quality. Furthermore, directional connectedness is noticed under Granger causality aligned results with ARDL. It is recommended that greenhouse gases (CO2) can be reduced by producing energy through renewable sources. Meanwhile, the government needs to make strong laws and policies to enforce carbon taxes on structural sectors of the economy and precisely should be focused on the green based economy. JEL classification Q47Q51Q5Q42Q56 Keywords CO2 emissionStructural changesEconomic GrowthEnergy consumptionBeltRoad Initiative
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Agriculture is one of the sectors that is expected to be most significantly impacted by climate change. There has been considerable interest in assessing these impacts and many recent studies investigating agricultural impacts for individual countries and regions using an array of models. However, the great majority of existing studies explore impacts on a country or region of interest without explicitly accounting for impacts on the rest of the world. This approach can bias the results of impact assessments for agriculture given the importance of global trade in this sector. Due to potential impacts on relative competitiveness, international trade, global supply, and prices, the net impacts of climate change on the agricultural sector in each region depend not only on productivity impacts within that region, but on how climate change impacts agricultural productivity throughout the world. In this study, we apply a global model of agriculture and forestry to evaluate climate change impacts on US agriculture with and without accounting for climate change impacts in the rest of the world. In addition, we examine scenarios where trade is expanded to explore the implications for regional allocation of production, trade volumes, and prices. To our knowledge, this is one of the only attempts to explicitly quantify the relative importance of accounting for global climate change when conducting regional assessments of climate change impacts. The results of our analyses reveal substantial differences in estimated impacts on the US agricultural sector when accounting for global impacts vs. US-only impacts, particularly for commodities where the United States has a smaller share of global production. In addition, we find that freer trade can play an important role in helping to buffer regional productivity shocks.
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Greenhouse gas emissions embodied in trade is a growing concern for the international community. Multiple studies have highlighted drawbacks in the territorial and production-based accounting of greenhouse gas emissions because it neglects emissions from the consumption of goods in trade. This creates weak carbon leakage and complicates international agreements on emissions regulations. Therefore, we estimated consumption-based emissions using input-output analysis and life cycle assessment to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions hidden in meat and dairy products in Hong Kong, a city predominately reliant on imports. We found that emissions solely from meat and dairy consumption were higher than the city's total greenhouse gas emissions using conventional production-based calculation. This implies that government reports underestimate more than half of the emissions, as 62% of emissions are embodied in international trade. The discrepancy emphasizes the need of transitioning climate targets and policy to consumption-based accounting. Furthermore, we have shown that dietary change from a meat-heavy diet to a diet in accordance with governmental nutrition guidelines could achieve a 67% reduction in livestock-related emissions, allowing Hong Kong to achieve the Paris Agreement targets for 2030. Consequently, we concluded that consumption-based accounting for greenhouse gas emissions is crucial to target the areas where emissions reduction is realistically achievable, especially for import-reliant cities like Hong Kong.
The global phosphorus cycle has been transformed in recent decades through increased use of mineral phosphorus fertilizer in agriculture and losses to water bodies, leading to risks of fossil phosphorus resource depletion and freshwater eutrophication. By moving phosphorus resources across world regions, international trade of agricultural products (food, feed, fiber and fuel) may contribute to these changes in the global phosphorus cycle, including critical nutrient imbalances. However, we lack a comprehensive, quantitative understanding of the role of agricultural trade in the global phosphorus cycle. By combining detailed data on international trade and the phosphorus content of agricultural products, we demonstrate that phosphorus flows through trade increased nearly eight-fold from 0.4 Tg P/yr in 1961 to 3.0 Tg P/yr in 2011, leading to an increase in the fraction of phosphorus taken up by crops that is subsequently exported from 9% in 1961 to 20% in 2011. The P flows in traded agricultural products was equivalent to 27% of the P traded in mineral fertilizers in 2011. Agricultural P flows were mostly driven by trade of cereals, soybeans and feed-cakes, with 28% of global phosphorus traded in human food, 44% in animal feed and 28% in crops for other uses in 2011. We found a strong spatial pattern in traded phosphorus in agricultural products, with most flows originating from the Americas and ending in Western Europe and Asia, with large amounts of phosphorus moving through trade within Western Europe, in strong contrast with the pattern of the mineral P fertilizer trade. We demonstrate that international trade of agricultural products has affected the domestic phosphorus cycle within many countries, making phosphorus exporters susceptible to the volatility of the mineral phosphorus fertilizer market. Overall, these results highlight the importance of trade as key component of the global phosphorus cycle.
Consumption-based accounting seeks to link a population's lifestyles to their environmental impact. Input-output analysis (IOA) serves well in this approach as it covers all traded products, their full supply chains and explicitly delineates final consumption. However, using IOA comes at the expense of precision due to aggregation error. There has been a recent discussion on the plausibility of IOA results of agricultural pressures. We look at the harvested area footprint of Chinese exports, open the black box of the results of IOA and provide a detailed composition of the footprint. This helps to understand whether its size is a result of the poor precision of IOA methods, or whether it is based on plausible production patterns of the exported products. We hybridize the EXIOBASE database, identify the most important exported products, apply structural path analysis in order to identify the most important production nodes in their production paths and apply a sensitivity analysis over the model. We show that the results of the hybrid MRIO method are generally robust to assumptions. Our results indicate that while the uncertainty of the sign of net trade footprint can be high, the uncertainty of national environmental footprint accounts is low.
We contribute to the debate over globalization and the environment by asking: What is the impact of trade on national water use? To address this question we employ econometric methods to quantify the causal relationship between trade openness and water use. Specifically, we use the instrumental variables methodology to evaluate the impact of trade openness on domestic water withdrawals in agriculture and industry. We find that trade openness does not have a significant impact on total or industrial water withdrawals. However, we show that a one percentage point increase in trade openness leads to a 5.21% decrease in agricultural water withdrawals. We find that trade openness reduces water use in agriculture primarily through the intensive margin effect, by leading farmers to produce more with less water, such as through the adoption of technology. We do not find evidence for extensive margin or crop mix impacts on agricultural water withdrawals. Significantly, these results demonstrate that trade openness leads to less water use in agriculture. This finding has broad scientific and policy relevance as we endeavor to untangle causal relationships in the complex global food system and develop policies to achieve water and food security.
Research on human-environment interactions is bedeviled by two key analytical challenges: integrating natural and social science information and demonstrating causal connections between proximate and distant influences. These challenges can be met by adopting an event-focused, causal-historical approach to research methodology, referred to here as Abductive Causal Eventism (ACE). With ACE, researchers construct causal histories of interrelated social and/or biophysical events backward in time and outward or inward in space through a process of eliminative inference and reasoning from effects to causes, called abduction. ACE is contrasted with three leading approaches to human-environment research: Land Change Science (LCS), Socio-ecological Systems (SES), and Political Ecology (PE). For illustration, ACE is applied to a study of post-War environmental change in two rural watersheds in Saint Lucia, West Indies. Findings reveal that the most consequential change has been the widespread reforestation of lands abandoned from farming. This change occurred irrespective of the type of land tenure, but was especially commonplace on lands with steeper slopes and further from roads. Reforestation during the 1960s and 1970s was caused by a combination of commodity market challenges, abandonment of subsistence cultivation in response to smaller family sizes, and sizable out-migrations of younger adults overseas. The expansion of banana cultivation in the 1960s and then again in the 1980s slowed and in places reversed this trend. But an especially large wave of farmland abandonment swept the island from the mid-1990s to early-2000s because the banana export market collapsed as a result of preferential market access being eroded by a series of WTO trade rulings. These effects have been reinforced by a surge in investment from return migrants and the tourism industry which has drawn labour out of farming while also creating economic incentive and political support for protecting more forests on both private estates and public lands. Yet, the post-War trend in reforestation may have ended as agriculture displays signs of rebounding and residential and tourism development expands unabated into the countryside. This study demonstrates the advantages of using ACE where explanations entail diverse types of causes operating across space and over time.
The increasing demand for agricultural products partly due to the high population growth requires agriculture to struggle for productivity improvement. However, productivity search is constrained by environmental preoccupations, raising the question of agricultural development models to be adopted to increase productivity while limiting environmental consequences. This paper examines the role of market orientation by assessing the effect of agricultural commodity export on greenhouse gas emissions relatively to local market oriented agricultural production model. Using panel data from 1986 to 2010 for 136 countries around the world, and accurate instrumental variables technique, the findings suggest that the proportion of primary commodity export in agricultural production increases greenhouse gas emissions. These results are robust to different sources of agricultural export and environmental data, and to the inclusion of additional control variables.