China imports first ‘zero-deforestation’ soybeans from Brazil

A 50,000-tonne batch of ‘zero-deforestation’ soybeans has arrived in China from Brazil, reports.

Such beans are intended to be produced without any deforestation or vegetation damage. 

This is the first soybean order to be imported to China with a “deforestation- and conversion-free (DCF)” clause. The deal was signed last year by two agricultural companies from China including its largest agribusiness, COFCO (China Cereals, Oils and Food Corporation).

Yin Xiaochao, who heads the export business of COFCO’s Brazilian grain and oil team, told China Central Broadcasting Network that it had taken time to find suitable sources of soybean and to conduct internal and external certification of the purchased product.

The order was facilitated by the World Economic Forum’s Tropical Forest Alliance. Jack Hurd, executive director of the alliance, called it “a milestone [that] sends a positive market signal from China to the global commodity market.” 

Soft commodities, particularly soy, beef, palm oil, paper and pulp, are major drivers of global deforestation. According to China Daily, millions of hectares of forest in Brazil have been lost since the 1970s as soybean cultivation expanded.

COFCO pledged in 2022 to eliminate deforestation from its soy, beef and palm oil supply chains by 2025. However, a 2023 investigative report by Repórter Brasil found that the company’s soy and palm oil supply chains still involve deforestation. Global Witness, a UK-based NGO, believes banks financing COFCO should be concerned about its deforestation footprint.

COFCO recently claimed to have achieved 100% traceability of the soy it purchases directly from Brazil. It plans to establish a “zero-deforestation” soybean supply chain in important ecological areas in Latin America in 2025. Related projects to establish sustainable palm oil and coffee supply chains around the world are also on the cards, the company added.

Read Dialogue Earth’s analysis of COFCO’s progress on traceability in Brazil.