1 Department of Environmental Science and Technology, School of Chemistry and Life Sciences, Hanoi University of Science and Technology;;;

*Corresponding author:; Tel.: +84–396915145


China not only serves as a significant trading partner for agricultural products with Vietnam but also holds a strategic position as an upstream neighbor in Vietnam's major river basins, thereby influencing the nation’s water security. This research initially examines the Vietnam-China relationship through the lens of virtual water trade in agricultural goods, analyzing the period from 2010 to 2021. Findings reveal Vietnam’s status as a virtual water deficit country vis-à-vis China, a trend that has been progressively worsening. Vietnam acted as a virtual water exporter during this period, exporting around 98 billion m3 to China while importing 10.96 billion m3. Both nations share similarities in virtual water structure due to similar climatic conditions and technical advancement levels. In terms of product structure, Vietnam emerges as a strategic partner, predominantly supplying China with agricultural products derived from plants. However, this structure lacks balance and is primarily centered around a select few products such as soybean oil (constituting 20.77% of virtual water imports) and manioc starch (constituting 33.48% of virtual water exports). The virtual water trade between Vietnam and China reflects a negative net import, with both countries possessing renewable internal water freshwater resources per capita lower than the global average. While Vietnam currently supports China in addressing water scarcity challenges, diversifying export markets and optimizing the import-export framework with China can enhance Vietnam’s resilience and contribute to long-term water sustainability. Consequently, prioritizing policies aligned with the virtual water perspective will empower Vietnam to effectively manage water scarcity, ensuring its future sustainability.


Cite this paper

Huong, N.T.T.; Thu, P.A.; Thao, V.T.N. Estimation of the virtual water trade of agricultural products between Vietnam and China. J. Hydro-Meteorol. 2024, 19, 23-35.


1. Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. The 2020 climate summary. Vietnam Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Climate Change, 2021.

2. Water Environment Partnership in Asia. Vietnam overview. 2024. Available online: (Accessed 26 March 2014).

3. (Accessed 14 March 2023).

4. Kuenzer, C.; Campbell, I.; Roch, M.; Leinenkugel, P.; Tuan, V.Q.; Dech, S. Understanding the impact of hydropower developments in the context of upstream–downstream relations in the Mekong river basin. Sustainability Sci. 2013, 8, 565–584.

5. Ngo, T.T.; Le, N.T.; Hoang, T.M.; Luong, D.H. Water scarcity in Vietnam: a point of view on virtual water perspective. Water Resour. Manage. 2018, 32, 3579–3593.

6. Allan, J.A. Fortunately there are substitutes for water otherwise our hydro-political futures would be impossible. Priorities for Water Resources Allocation and Management. Overseas Development Administration, London, 1993, 13–26.

7. Allan, J.A. Water stress and global mitigation: water food and trade. Arid Lands Newsletter, 1999, pp. 45.

8. Chuong, N.A. The problem of imbalance in Vietnam-China economic relations in the period 2010-2020. VN J. Social Sci. Humanit. 2022, 8(4).

9. My, N.T. Analysis of Vietnam's agricultural exports to China through trade indicators. Econ. Manage. 2023, 175, 28–35.

10. General Statistics Office of Vietnam. Vietnam Import-Export Report 2010. Ministry of Industry and Trade, 2011.

11. Zhang, Y.; Zhang, J.; Wang, C.; Cao, J.; Liu, Z.; Wang, L. China and trans-pacific partnership agreement countries: estimation of the virtual water trade of agricultural products. J. Cleaner Prod. 2017, 140, 1493–1503.

12. Hess, T. Estimating green water footprints in a temperate environment. Water 2010, 2(3), 351–362.

13. Duarte, R.; Pinilla, V.; Serrano, A. The effect of globalisation on water consumption: A case study of the Spanish virtual water trade, 1849–1935. Ecol. Econ. 2014, 100, 96–105.

14. Zeitoun, M.; Allan, J.T.; Mohieldeen, Y. Virtual water "flows" of the Nile Basin, 1998–2004: A first approximation and implications for water security. Global Environ. Change. 2010, 20(2), 229–242.

15. FAO. Water for sustainable food and agriculture. A report produced for the G20 Presidency of Germany, 2017.  Available online: (Accessed 2017).

16. Ay, H. Virtual water trade: A quantification of virtual water flows between nations in relation to international crop trade. Proceedings of the International Expert Meeting on Virtual Water Trade 12, Delft, 2003.

17. Chapagain, A.K.; Hoekstra, A. Virtual water flows between nations in relation to trade in livestock and livestock products. UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, Delft, 2003, 13, pp. 158.

18. Oki, T.; Kanae, S. Virtual water trade and world water resources. Water Sci. Technol. 2004, 49(7), 203–209.

19. Hoekstra, A.Y.; Hung, P.Q. Virtual water trade. Proceedings of the International Expert Meeting on virtual water trade. 2003.

20. Zhang, M.; et al. Virtual water flows and drivers in the international trade of agricultural products of the regional comprehensive economic partnership. Water Sci. Technol. 2024, 89(3), 730–744.

21. Available online

22. International Trade Center. International Trade in Goods Statistic by Product Group. 2024. Available online: (Accessed 30 March 2024).

23. Mekonnen, M.M.; Hoekstra, A.Y. The green, blue and grey water footprint of crops and derived crop products. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 2011, 15(5), 1577–1600.

24. Mekonnen, M.; Hoekstra, A.Y. The green, blue and grey water footprint of farm animals and animal products. Ecosystems 2012, 15, 401–415.

25. Portmann, F.T.; Siebert, S.; Döll, P. MIRCA2000–Global monthly irrigated and rainfed crop areas around the year 2000: A new high‐resolution data set for agricultural and hydrological modeling. Global Biogeochem Cycles 2010, 24(1), GB1011

26. Hoekstra, A.Y.; Mekonnen, M.N. The water footprint of humanity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012, 109(9), 3232–3237.

27. General Statistics Office of Vietnam. Vietnam import-export report 2018. Ministry of Industry and Trade, 2019.

28. Li, W.; Zhao, S.; Chen, Y.; Wang, Q.; Ai, W. State of China's climate in 2020. Atmos. Oceanic Sci. Lett. 2021, 14(4), 100048.

29. General Statistics Office of Vietnam. Vietnam import-export report 2019. Ministry of Industry and Trade, 2020.

30. Zhuo, L.; Mekonnen, M.N.; Hoekstra, A.Y. Consumptive water footprint and virtual water trade scenarios for China–With a focus on crop production, consumption, and trade. Environ. Int. 2016, 94, 211–223.