China first became the world’s largest trading country in 2013. It then went on to hold that position for five out of the next six years.

This is largely because of China’s growing domestic market as well as its position as the world’s ‘manufacturing centre’. Much of this trade requires importing commodities from resource-rich countries that are typically in the global south. China then processes these commodities and trades them within China as well as abroad, often to higher-income countries in Europe and North America.

The research gap

Much of the current research on trade focuses on how it’s linked with economic sectors. There is little information on how it depends on and affects nature, or the environments that support a global trade system.

Why China?

With its unique position within the global trade system, China is a great case study of how to create sustainable trade. 

This is also a critical time for China to have a concrete understanding of its trade and impacts. In 2020 it will be hosting the 15th UN Biodiversity. This makes it a hugely influential force in shaping the next decade of environmental goals. 

China has also called for an ‘ecological civilisation’ and is taking steps to make their global development strategy, the Belt and Road Initiative, nature-friendly.

What will we do?

We will first investigate the full knock-on effects of wildlife trade, and the production and trade of agricultural commodities – unearthing how they both affect, and depend upon, the environment. Soy beans, rubber, bamboo and rattan will be our main focus.

Throughout the project we will also be regularly producing tools such as policy recommendations and technical guidance. Policy makers and businesses will then be able to translate these tools into creative solutions. 

We will also be producing research publications, creating momentum for long-term impact. With the help of our wider networks and forums, we will be able to disseminate all these tools and knowledge – helping to grow China’s sustainable trade.