Assessment of regional trade and virtual water flows in China

Dabo Guan, Klaus Hubacek

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332 Citations (Scopus)


The success of China's economic development has left deep marks on resource availability and quality. Some regions in China are relatively poor with regards to water resources. This problem is exacerbated by economic growth. Flourishing trade activities on both domestic and international levels have resulted in significant amounts of water withdrawal and water pollution. Hence the goal of this paper is to evaluate the current inter-regional trade structure and its effects on water consumption and pollution via 'virtual water flows'. Virtual water is the water embedded in products and used in the whole production chain, and that is traded between regions or exported to other countries. For this assessment of trade flows and effects on water resources, we have developed an extended regional input-output model for eight hydro-economic regions in China to account for virtual water flows between North and South China. The findings show that the current trade structure in China is not very favorable with regards to water resource allocation and efficiency. North China as a water scarce region virtually exports about 5% of its total available freshwater resources while accepting large amounts of wastewater for other regions' consumption. By contrast, South China a region with abundant water resources is virtually importing water from other regions while their imports are creating waste water polluting other regions' hydro-ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-170
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Economics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2007


  • China
  • Environment
  • Input-output analysis
  • Natural resources
  • Trade
  • Water accounting

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