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Keywords:

  • dematerialization;
  • industrial ecology;
  • input−output analysis (IOA);
  • material flow analysis (MFA);
  • physical trade balance;
  • raw material consumption

Summary

This article aims at estimating the raw material equivalents (RMEs)—the upstream used material flows required along the production chain—of imports and exports for some Latin American countries: Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico. Furthermore, the United States is included in the analysis as a reference for a high-income economy. The RME concept and the empirical evidence are articulated by use of an input−output methodology. Results are set out for the year 2003 for each of the countries and in time series for the years 1977, 1986, 1996, and 2003 in the case of Chile. The findings show not only the physical dimensions behind direct material traded but also how the previous exporter (importer) position of a country (based on standard material flow analysis indicators) deteriorates, alleviates, or changes. Implications for material consumption indicators, such as direct material consumption (DMC) and raw material consumption (RMC), are also drawn. The results suggest basing the discussion of material flows on a broader set of indicators to obtain a more comprehensive picture of the implications of international trade and its impacts on the environment.