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China’s exposure to environmental risks from Brazilian beef imports

Publication / 15 Jun 2020

This Trase briefing uses data on sourcing patterns of Brazilian beef to assess the Chinese market’s exposure to deforestation and carbon emissions risk from cattle deforestation in production regions.


  • China’s beef imports are growing as domestic production is outpaced by demand. Whilst pork remains the dominant meat in Chinese diets, accounting for two thirds of meat consumption, beef consumption is predicted to increase faster than pork in the coming decade.
  • Beef exports from Brazil to China have grown rapidly over the last five years, making Brazil a significant source of China’s beef imports (44% in 2019). Almost 70% of Brazilian beef destined for export to China comes from the Amazon and Cerrado regions where there is ongoing deforestation for cattle pasture expansion. Deforestation for cattle ranching is associated with a variety of environmental and social impacts including biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions and slave labour.
  • Analysis in this brief shows that the different sourcing patterns of trading companies, and of mainland China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), result in different levels of exposure to environmental risks. In 2017, mainland China had just over half the deforestation risk/tonne of imports of the Hong Kong SAR.
  • The risks associated with Brazil’s beef exports to China are highly concentrated in a small number of traders and production regions. For example, in 2017, imports from just 25 Brazilian municipalities accounted for half of the associated CO2 emissions risk from cattle deforestation embedded in China’s imports of Brazilian beef.
  • The concentration of these risks in a small number of traders and production regions provides an opportunity for Chinese buyers and the government to mitigate them — securing the resilience of an important food supply chain and supporting international climate and biodiversity goals.

This briefing is also available in Portuguese (Português) and Chinese (中文). It was first published on trase.earth.

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