Skip navigation
Journal article

Trading deforestation – why the legality of forest-risk commodities is insufficient

Some consumer countries and blocs are developing laws to tackle deforestation linked to commodity imports. Using Brazil as an example, the authors show that measures that focus on legality alone are not sufficient to address global deforestation and may be undermined by dilution of local laws.

Chris West / Published on 23 November 2021

Read the paper  Open access


dos Reis, T.N.P., de Faria, V.G., Lopes, G.R., Sparovek, G., West, C., Rajão, R.G., Ferreira, M.N., Elvira, M.M.S. and do Valle, R.S.T. (2021). Trading deforestation - Why the legality of forest-risk commodities is insufficient. Environmental Research Letters.

What is a forest-risk commodity?

Forest-risk commodities are products whose cultivation involves deforestation and vegetation clearing in the producing countries.

The way we use the land to produce, trade and consume food is directly connected to social-environmental issues like deforestation, biodiversity loss, human rights violations, climate change, and pandemics. Across the globe, demand for agricultural products is driving deforestation and it is not just a local issue. Deforestation is embedded in global supply chains, particularly in the trade routes between commodity-producing countries in the Global South and commodity-importing countries in the Global North.

Consumer countries and blocs, including the UK and the EU, are developing laws to tackle deforestation linked to commodity imports. Some of these may stipulate that imported goods must comply with the producer country’s laws on land use. However, the authors show that these measures alone are not enough to address global deforestation.

The authors use Brazil as an example of a key exporter of forest-risk commodities. They showed that Brazil has about 3.25 million hectares of natural habitat that is at high risk of legally deforestation until 2025. On top of this, Brazil is currently in the process of legalizing agricultural production in areas that have been illegally deforested. What was illegal before may become legal shortly.

The authors conclude that laws put in place by consumer countries are insufficient to protect forests and other ecosystems. They may even create perverse incentives for producer countries to weaken their own legal protections.

Read the paper

Open access

SEI author

Chris West

Deputy Centre Director (Research)

SEI York

Design and development by Soapbox.