Virtual Water Trade of Agricultural Products

Annotated Bibliography

Zhang, Yu et al. “China and Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Countries: Estimation of the Virtual Water Trade of Agricultural Products.” Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 140, no. 3, 2017, pp. 1493-1503.

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This article was written by a body of researchers under the organizational leadership of Yu Zhang, a professor at Nanjing University. It was published in 2017 in the Journal of Cleaner Production. The article was peer-reviewed and is the most recent academic resource available for this paper. The topic of the article is the estimation of the virtual water trade of agricultural products between China and TPPA.

In this paper, the members of TPPA are classified into four groups based on their water abundance and net import. In addition, the researchers conducted a diachronic analysis of virtual water trade between China and the members of TPPA between the years 2001 and 2014. The results showed that China’s imports of virtual water are about 9 to 10 times bigger than its exports, with 7.47 billion m3/y in import, whereas 63.45 billion m3/y was embedded in imported products (Zhang et al., 1496). The paper highlights the reasons for such a drastic difference between imported and exported virtual water lie fundamentally in the difference in technological and scientific advancements in agriculture. The paper concludes by acknowledging the importance of virtual water trade as a valuable tool used in promotion of sustainability of water resources in agriculture and states that the findings are conducive to the adjustment of trade structure to achieve an optimal state of ecology, economy, and politics (Zhang et al., 1493).

This data is important to our research as it shows the perspective on virtual water trade in agriculture from the perspective of one of the largest virtual water importers in the world and highlights that Chinese need for virtual water is motivated not by climate and lack of natural water reserves but rather technological needs and water sustainability concerns.

Boschee, Pam. “Produced and Flow-Back, Water Recycling, and Reuse: Economics, Limitations, and Technology.” Society of Petroleum Engineers, vol. 3, no. 1, 2014, pp. 23-29.

This article is written by Pam Boschee – a senior editor of Oil and Gas Facilities at Society of Petroleum Engineers Journal, where it was published in 2013. It can be considered a relatively recent and trustworthy academic source, as it was published within 6 years from the current date and published in a peer-reviewed journal. The article addresses the challenges of finding energy-efficient methods in using water in oil and gas operations.

As it stands, the Oil and Gas industry is one of the largest users of water, namely Blue Water (Boschee, 26). Many gases and oil platforms and refineries are located in arid parts of the Earth and require a constant supply of water from other regions to sustain their operations. Thus, the article touches upon the participation of Oil and Gas as non-agricultural consumer products in overall virtual water trade both as consumers and suppliers of virtual water value. The article offers a comparative analysis of extracting water on site as opposed to transporting it from other regions (Boschee, 27). In addition, the authors demonstrate the importance of advanced water treatment methods as a means of recycling and reusing the same water in order to reduce the overall needs for water consumption.

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This article is helpful to our research in several ways. First, it presents the oil and gas industry as a major player in the virtual water trade. It provides a wholesome explanation as to why the usage of green water in many oil and gas facilities may not be as efficient as the use of imported blue water. In addition, the paper reflects on technological advancements as an important factor in determining the amount of imported water. To summarize, the abundance of local water supplies in addition to levels of technological advancement determines the quantity of water use in the gas and oil industry. The material in this article is relevant to topics discussed in class about the conservation of energy in production methods and sustainability by conserving resources.

Virtual Water Trade and Water Savings in Agriculture

Virtual water trade is a concept associated with globalization and the global economy. Its rise was motivated by growing water scarcity in arid areas around the world. It is no secret that water, just like any other natural resource, is distributed unevenly across the surface of the Earth (“Virtual Water Trade”). Some areas, like the Americas, are rich in water due to mild climate and abundance of rivers, lakes, and underground sources of freshwater (Zhang et al., 1495). Meanwhile, the entirety of Africa and many parts of eastern Asia are notorious for having low water resources, thus making them reliable on water imports to sustain its population and economy. Water is a commodity used everywhere – from agriculture to the construction industry and fossil excavation. Virtual water value in products stands for the amount of water used in its production that a country would have had to spend if they wanted to create it domestically. Depending on the country, values for the same product may change drastically. A ton of tropical fruits grown in water-enriched Brazil would require much fewer resources than it would require if the same were attempted in Iraq, for example.

There are numerous factors that contribute to the virtual water trade in every particular country. Aside from abundance or lacking in water resources, one most also considers the technological and industrial level of agriculture and related facilities in a particular country, national policies towards water conservation, territory abundance, climate, political, and socio-economical factors (Zhang et al., 1497). At times, a well-off country with plenty of water resources may opt to import products with virtual water value in them, due to one of the reasons mentioned above. A prime example of this tendency would be Japan, which imports agricultural products instead of producing them domestically due to land constraints (Zhang et al., 1496). China, on the other hand, imports grandiose amounts of food in order to sustain its massive population.

There are two types of “virtual water.” Green water is a kind of water gained from rainfall (Zhang et al., 1496). Most countries that export virtual water-valued products possess great amounts of green water. There is a reason for that – green water costs nothing for producers to use, and at the same time cannot be extracted and exported to other places. Green water is particularly important to agriculture. Countries rich with green water can afford to sell their products at lower prices and swipe away any competition that has to make additional expenses for irrigation (“Virtual Water Trade”).

Bluewater, on the other hand, is water found in rivers, lakes, stored in artificial and natural basins (Zhang et al., 1496). This water has high export values, as it can be transferred from one point to another via pipelines and trucks. However, its use is costly, as all those pipelines, trucks, and containers are expensive. Bluewater is primarily used in industry, but depending on the country, it can be employed in agriculture as well. The use of blue water significantly raises the costs of food and industry production.

Thus, virtual water trade helps to preserve natural water resources for countries that do not have enough (“Virtual Water Trade”). Buying agricultural products in Brazil is easier, cheaper, and more cost-efficient than trying to establish a similar business anywhere else. An attempt to do so will inevitably end up in higher costs of the end product, water being wasted due to technological deficiencies and lack of experience in the field, climatological factors, and other nuances that affect the trade. Thus, virtual water trade forms the basis of water conservation efforts and allows using the available water for more important matters such as supplying households and individuals with drinkable water or maintaining crucial industries such as fossil excavation and technological production (“Virtual Water Trade”). Without globalization of the markets, this trend would have been impossible, as virtual water trade relies greatly on countries importing and exporting water-valued products to one another.

The growing trend of opposition to globalization that was demonstrated in numerous countries, such as the USA, China, Europe, and Russia, may decrease the effectiveness of the overall use of the world’s fresh water supply. These trends are alarming, as they encourage inefficient consumption of a resource that is already scarce. At current water consumption levels, the Earth is projected to experience a 40% water shortage by the year 2030 (Zhang et al., 1494). With large economies focusing on themselves and promoting local food production and industrial effort, the effect on the world water savings will be largely negative.

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While such efforts would provide a degree of independence from outside influence when it comes to food and material supplies, the end product will take a lot more water to create, and will inevitably be more expensive and less available to the end-users. This approach will encourage the use of Bluewater, which is not a sustainable resource, over Green water, which is sustainable. Large exporters of green-water-valued products such as Brazil and other countries of South America will find a decreasing demand for their products and will be forced to cut down their agricultural efforts. At the same time, states with less efficient technologies, less welcoming climate, and fewer water resources will be forced to import Bluewater from other states in order to be able to maintain their own agricultural efforts. In so doing, they will simply swap a dependence on foreign import of agricultural products with a dependence on foreign import on water, which will make the whole exercise rather pointless.

In conclusion, it must be said that numerous countries are using virtual water trade as a primary strategy for solving their water-related problems. African countries, Japan, China, Europe, and the USA, all use it to some degree in order to prevent the needless and inefficient use of their own water supplies in their respective states. While tendencies towards autonomy and self-reliance are becoming increasingly popular, it is unlikely that these countries that make up the backbone of the world economy will completely abandon virtual water trade, as it is too integrated into their water preservation and economic models.


Bergen, Michael et al. “Water Footprint of European Cars: Potential Impacts of Water Consumption along Automobile Life Cycles.” Environmental Science and Technology, vol. 46, no. 3, 2012, pp. 4091-4099.

Boschee, Pam. “Produced and Flow-Back, Water Recycling and Reuse: Economics, Limitations, and Technology.” Society of Petroleum Engineers, vol. 3, no. 1, 2014, pp. 23-29.

Morelli, A. “Water.”, Web.

“Virtual Water Trade.” Water Footprint Network, Web.

Yang, Hu. “Virtual Water Trade: An Assessment of Water Use Efficiency in The International Food Trade.” Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, vol. 10, no. 3, 2006, pp. 443-453.

Zhang, Yu et al. “China and Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Countries: Estimation of the Virtual Water Trade of Agricultural Products.” Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 140, no. 3, 2017, pp. 1493-1503.

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