As unsold U.S. soybeans are stored in silos across the farm belt, Brazilian farmers and corporations scramble to satisfy the voracious Chinese market. The push to break new ground amid President Donald Trump’s trade war with China is putting increasing pressure on the Amazon rainforest and is likely linked to the region’s devastating fires, according to experts.
“There is concern that market pressures related to the disruptions in global trade contributed to the fires in the Amazon,” a spokesman for the industry group the U.S. Soybean Export Council said in an email to HuffPost.
Brazil is America’s biggest soybean competitor and has stepped up its production now that China has slashed its purchases of U.S. crops in retaliation for Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports. Soy shipments from Brazil jumped 27% from 2017 to 2018. Chinese imports from Brazil in the 12 months through April amounted to 71 million tons — nearly as much as China imported from the entire world in 2014, according to Bloomberg.
Amid increasing demands for farm products from China, Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has pledged to open up the 2 million-square-mile Amazon forest — including inside protected indigenous areas — to more farming and mining. He has jokingly referred to himself as “Captain Chainsaw.” Many suspect that raging fires in the region, which were largely unchecked for weeks, are part of a strategy to speed up that policy. The Amazon Environmental Research Institute has concluded that the recent increase in the number of fires in the Amazon is directly related to deliberate deforestation, the BBC reported.
“Citizens around the world should be concerned by the global environmental and individual health impact of the devastating fires in Brazil, potentially started to clear land for crops and cattle,” Jim Sutter, CEO of the Soybean Export Council, said in a statement to HuffPost. “Meanwhile, U.S. crops remain unsold.”
Not only do American farmers have soybeans to sell, but also the crops are generally grown under far more stringent environmental standards than in Brazil, Sutter noted.
“It’s such a waste,” Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, told HuffPost. “We have plenty of soybeans to sell, while you worry that more and more land is being put into production in Brazil to satisfy the market. And the rainforest is so crucially important to the world.”
The consequences are devastating not only for Brazil but also for the world. The Amazon basin — the globe’s biggest rainforest and home to 3 million species of plants and animals — is crucial to regulating global warming. Its forests absorb millions of tons of carbon emissions each year.
Trump skipped the G-7 meeting on climate change on Monday. The president claimed he had other meetings with the leaders of Germany and India. But both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi were in the climate change meeting.
Trump later claimed that he knows “more than most people about the environment.” He noted: “I’m an environmentalist. A lot of people don’t understand that.”