Category Archives: Economic Crisis

My DGAP article | Energiewende vs. USA Shale Gas: Can German industry compete?

ImageIn Germany, the impact of the country’s renewable energy transition on the economy is a very hot topic.  Tuesday, Mrs. Merkel’s  new Minister of Economy & Environment (and chair of the Social Democratic Party), Mr. Sigmar Gabriel, declared: “We need to keep in mind that the whole economic future of our country is riding on this,” (NYT, 21Jan14).

Here’ is my article in the DGAP’s (German Council on Foreign Affairs’) IP Journal of 30Dec13  (submitted 24Nov13):

Germany’s Energiewende (renewable-energy transition) is under intense pressure both from consumers facing soaring electric bills and from German manufacturers fretting about their falling energy competitiveness vís-a-vís the US, where manufacturers are benefiting from the boom in cheap natural gas production. What should be done to address these concerns has become a major topic of the CDU-SPD negotiations forming Chancellor Merkel’s new coalition government.  

From the viewpoint of German manufacturers, there are two ways the US shale gas revolution implies a worrisome competitive challenge. First, cheaper natural gas in the US is lowering electricity and other energy costs for American manufacturers, while Germany’s continue to rise. This is especially of concern to energy-intensive industries, where the EU now has 36 percent of world capacity and the US only 10 percent. Secondly, as the US begins to build facilities for export of liquefied gas (LNG), this capacity could have a significant effect on the price of electricity and gas in Asia. … Continue reading at DGAP’s (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik e.V.) IP Journal.

Competing with China in Latin America: Is Germany losing its high-tech advantage?

Wilfredo R. Rodriguez H., CC BYAn article I wrote for the IP Journal of the German Council on Foreign Relations is online today. It examines data on China, the EU and Germany’s trade with Latin America and the Caribbean, including in energy. Here’s a quote from near the end:

…  China’s exports to Latin America in the low-, medium-, and  high-tech categories were below those of Germany and the EU in 2003; but in 2012 [China's exports] exceeded the combined totals of the EU15 in the medium-tech and even in the high-tech categories. The only place the EU15 surpasses China is, rather oddly, in the low-tech manufactured goods …

-> READ THE ARTICLE at GCFP’s IP Journal or at a link from … Continue reading

My talk: JFK Institute, Berlin: How “The Global Barrel” shapes Washington-EU relations

You’re invited to my lecture at The JFK Institute of North American Studies at Freie Universität in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday 6 PM. Here is the flyer, then the Abstract.  Tschüß!

ABSTRACT:

“The Global Barrel”

Today’s globalized market-centered energy system defines Washington’s relations with the EU, Japan and OPEC states Continue reading

Listening to Saudi Oil Minister Al Naimi at CISIS in Washington: Bad news for Venezuela & Iran?

Al-Naimi at CSIS

Al-Naimi at CSIS

 Last week in Washington, I attended a talk by Saudi Oil Minister and head of Aramco, Ali al-Naimi, at CSIS.  Energy and foreign policy veterans from Daniel Yergin to Brent Scowcroft and Dr. James Schlesinge were on hand to hear al-Naimi’s views. You can read the transcript here, or watch the video embedded below.

Al-Naimi’s contrasted his central theme: “the enduring relevance of oil,” to the predictions made for many years by the adherents of “peak oil”–a theory that he said had itself “peaked in 2009” and has now been shown to be “utterly incorrect.”

Bad News for Venezuela and Iran?

Listening to him describe the global impact that the U.S.A. tight-oil “revolution” will have on the market,  plus with Alberta’s heavy oil and so many other new sources from around the globe all coming to market, brought to my mind images of the 1980’s.  The 1980’s were the “lost decade” in Latin America. It strikes me that, if he’s right about the trajectory of the global oil sector, the consequences for OPEC’s “price hawk” faction would be sobering. Continue reading

I’m cited: “(BN) Chavez Buys Enemy U.S.’s Fuel While Lauding Iran”

Presidents Chavez and Ahmadinejad met in Caracas in January (here) and June 2012

I was cited a number of times yesterday in a Bloomberg News article by Nathan Crooks in Caracas and Paul Burkhardt in NYC.  I reprint it below because the authors’ research further illustrates an issue I’ve often stressed here.

That is: in spite of President Chavez’ rhetoric promising to stand by Presidents Ahmadinejad of Iran (and Assad of Syria, and previously Qaddafi of Libya), he is actually in no position to withstand the U.S. sanctions that could be imposed on Venezuela for aiding Iran. Continue reading

Oil Prices: Saudi Pumping Surge & US-EU Iran Strategy

What are the factors driving up the price of oil? Some cite fundamentals, others over-active speculation,

Persian Gulf & Middle East (UTex Lib. 2008)

and there are certainly major geopolitical issues in OPEC‘s Mideast and North African (MENA) member states–which is what this post is about.

The Present Saudi Pumping Surge is a Key Element of the US & EU Iran Sanctions Strategy

It is certain that the Iran confrontation will only intensify as the mid-summer sanctions deadline approaches.  By July, Washington and the EU hope to significantly curtail Iran’s ability to export oil.  In this situation, it is perhaps surprising that prices have not gone higher.

This past week, the normally understated Economist, while noting the Saudis’ extraordinary efforts to pump excess capacity, nevertheless warned that the Iran crisis could trigger a worst-ever oil shock:

Continue reading

A Santos-Chavez Pipeline: Where’s the demand for Latin America’s oil boom?

President Santos of Colombia recently went to Caracas where he and PresidentChavez signed a letter of commitment  for the “Binational Project on the Venezuela-Colombia Oil Pipeline” to run 3,000 km. from Venezuela’s Faja heavy-oil region, west across Colombia to the Pacific port of Tumaco.  (El Universal and El Universal).  After many disappointments in recent years in collaborations with PDVSA, Latin American presidents haven’t endorsed many joint projects lately.  Nevertheless, Santos was beside himself with enthusiasm after the five-hour meeting on 28 November, declaring “Wherever we’ve mentioned this, people’s eyes open wide.” (Reuters)

Let’s look at some data to see if Santos and Chavez are really onto somehing here. Continue reading

Part III: Venezuelan heavy oil: China’s persistence is finally paying off

First, here is an outline of this and the next three or four blogs on this topic:

I. Changes on the Venezuelan side that are enhancing the Chinese role:

a.  Chavez’ recent interest in increasing national oil production 

b.  The existential crisis Chavismo faces from the slow collapse of dysfunctional state institutions, civil infrastructure, and nationalized enterprises

II. Changes on China’s side that enhance its role in Venezuela:

a.  China has now loaned Venezuela so much money, and Venezuela so badly needs continued Chinese financing (lately it  also feels a need for managerial and technical assistance), that Beijing has been able to insist Caracas not only begin to come through on long-awaited heavy-oil contracts, but that it also comply with certain  geo-political and fiscal-accountability conditions. A couple of these are pretty amazing.

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I. Changes on the Venezuelan side enhancing the Chinese role:   a. Chavez’ new interest in increasing national oil production

One reason for China’s deepening influence in Venezuela is that PDVSA‘s president and energy minister, Rafael Ramirez, is no longer alone in insisting that PDVSA’s level of production has to rise.  President Chavez now seems to have gotten behind the need to increase national production.  If the price of oil falls significantly (many feel six months at an average of $60/barrel would be ruinous) and PDVSA’s exports per day have not risen to compensate, Venezuela will be in real trouble.  Venezuela is extraordinarily dependent on imported goods, from food to machinery for which dollars are needed; and it also must keep up payments to foreign bond holders, for which a steady stream of dollars are also needed.  Chavez and Ramirez have every reason to expect that the world’s economic woes will lead to a decrease in oil demand over the next year or two, and this of course can lead to significantly lower prices.  These fears were not apparent in the recent past. It has been more or less a tenent of Chavista faith at elite-and-professional levels that the price of oil will never again fall significantly.  I have been told this many times.  Continue reading

Part II: Venezuelan heavy oil: China’s persistence is finally paying off

Major Chinese Faja heavy-oil-production contracts had not materialized till now. Why not?

(This is continued from Part I)    On the one hand, technical reasons would be given against closing deals with the Chinese. For example, it was thought by some in PDVSA that Chinese companies lacked the technology to efficiently implement the refineries needed to upgrade Venezuela‘s extra-heavy oil to a grade light enough to enable it to be accepted by foreign refineries. On this excuse, some top PDVSA executives had pressed Chinese firms to focus on making joint proposals together with, say, Total of France.  This was because Total had already proven the quality of its upgrader-refinery technology in one of the four proof-of-principle projects foreign companies had implemented during the previous government’s apertura period. (The apertura was the liberal “opening” of the oil sector to significant Continue reading

Part I: Venezuelan heavy oil: China’s persistence is finally paying off

In my travels and interviews in Venezuela this summer, it became clear that there has been a major advance in the relationship between China and the Bolivarian administration of President Chavez.  China’s dogged persistence and large state-sponsored investments in Venezuela – apparently the largest they’ve made to date in any country – are finally beginning to bear fruit.  The new Chinese influence is being simultaneously extended to both oil and non-oil sectors. 

Partly this development is due to the many crises affecting the Bolivarian state, and decisions it has been forced to take to make increasing national oil production a priority.  To advance this program, President Chavez’ administration has made initial moves to grant Beijing access to Venezuelan oil in major ways it had not previously. 

However, there are two sides to this story: on the other side, increasing Chinese participation is also a product of China having step-by-step put some quite sharp demands on PDVSA and the Venezuelan Bolivarian state for financial transparency and accountability, for geopolitical stabilization, and in particular, for Chinese firms being granted large-scale access to new heavy-oil fields in the Faja of the Orinoco River.  The key ingredient here is that Continue reading