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Abstract

International agricultural trade has been growing significantly during the last decade. Many countries rely on imports to ensure adequate food supplies to the people. A few are becoming food baskets of the world. This process raises issues about the food security in depending countries and potentially unsustainable land and water use in exporting countries. In this paper, we analyse the impacts of amplified farm trade on natural resources, especially water. Farm exports and imports of five Latin America countries (Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Peru and Chile) are examined carefully. A preliminary analysis indicates that virtual water imports can save valuable water resources in water-short countries, such as Mexico and Chile. Major exporting countries, including Brazil and Argentina, have become big exporters due to abundant natural resource endowments. The opportunity costs of agricultural production in those countries are identified as being low, because of the predominant green water use. It is concluded that virtual water trade can be a powerful tool to alleviate water stress in semi-arid countries. However, for exporting nations a sustainable water use can only be guaranteed if environmental production costs are fully reflected in the commodity prices. There is no basis for erecting environmental trade tariffs on exporters though. Setting up legal foundations for them in full compliance with WTOs processes would be a daunting task.

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