Evolution of China's water footprint and virtual water trade: A global trade assessment

Xu Tian*, Joseph Sarkis, Yong Geng, Yiying Qian, Cuixia Gao, Raimund Bleischwitz, Yue Xu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

74 Citations (Scopus)


Water embodied in traded commodities is important for water sustainability management. This study provides insight into China's water footprint and virtual water trade using three specific water named Green, Blue and Grey. A multi-region input-output analysis at national and sectoral analysis levels from the years 1995 to 2009 is conducted. The evolution and position of China's virtual water trade across a global supply chain are explored through cluster analysis. The results show that China represented 11.2% of the global water footprint in 1995 and 13.6% in 2009. The green virtual water is the largest of China's exports and imports. In general, China is a net exporter of virtual water during this time period. China mainly imports virtual water from the USA, India and Brazil, and mainly exports virtual water to the USA, Japan and Germany. The agriculture sector and the food sector represent the sectors with both the largest import and export virtual water quantities. China's global virtual water trade network has been relatively stable from 1995 to 2009. China has especially close relationships with the USA, Indonesia, India, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Australia. Trade relations, resource endowment and supply-demand relationships may play key roles in China's global virtual water footprint network rather than geographical location. Finally, policy implications are proposed for China's long term sustainable water management and for global supply chain management in general.

Original languageEnglish
Peer-reviewed scientific journalEnvironment International
Volume121, Part 1
Issue numberDecember
Pages (from-to)178-188
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 11.09.2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


  • 512 Business and Management
  • Water footprint
  • Global supply chain;
  • Cluster analysis
  • Virtual water trade
  • China


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