Is Chilean biodiversity under increased risk because of free-trade agreements?
In the last decades, global commerce has been dominated by international trade of raw materials and elaborated industrial products. Numerous countries have subscribed agreements to facilitate and enhance international trade. Chile has been outstanding among Latin American countries for its open economy that has led the countery to signing free trade agreements with more than 60 nations worldwide in the past 20 years. The co-signatory countries are responsible together for more than 85% of the global GNP and support over 60% of the world population. In the case of Chile, the main export products derive from mining, agriculture, and forestry activities. In this work, we evaluate, using national commercial and environmental statistics, whether Chile’s open economy in the past decades has had significant impacts for the conservation of biodiversity, measured by associated trends in land use, main export products, and externalities of industrial activities facilitated by free-market agreements.
Over the past 20 years, international trade of the main Chilean export products from forestry and agriculture showed sustained increases, particularly in the case of cellulose and fiber. The sustained increase in exports from agriculture and forestry was directly linked to intensification in the use of fertilizers, extraction of groundwater for irrigation, and expansion of the land area dedicated to forestry and crops, which were indirectly supported by government subsidies. In the case of central Chile, identified as one of the global conservation priorities, which has less than 5% of its land currently under protection, this trend was associated with substantial expansion of forestry and agriculture activities onto remnant wild ecosystems. Between 1977 and 2011, more than 160,000 hectares of native forests were cleared for agricultural or forestry purposes. The expansion of forestry plantations was associated with a growing number of cellulose plants and significant increases in GNP, and concomitantly with limited resources allocated to support biodiversity protection. This analysis explores the links between Chile’s open economy and positive and negative externalities for biodiversity. We propose strategies to enhance the protection of the national biological heritage through relocation of public subsidies to plantations, development of multiple-use landscapes, and enhanced participation of local communities in decisions about land use.