Algeria buckles up for homegrown auto drive

Employees work at a car factory in Oran, Algeria. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 12 February 2017
0

Algeria buckles up for homegrown auto drive

ALGIERS: Once one of Africa’s biggest car buyers, Algeria is embarking on an ambitious program aimed at replacing hundreds of thousands of foreign imports with domestically produced models to keep drivers on the road.
Facing up to a sharp drop in the price of oil — its main revenue source — the North African nation has launched a “new economic model” which seeks to reduce reliance on crude sales.
One of the ways it hopes to achieve this is by developing its domestic automotive industry, which has been given incentives to produce more models after the government radically slashed imports.
As fears grow over US President Donald Trump’s impact on global free trade, Algeria’s move toward homegrown manufacturing is a possible sign of protectionism in the country.
Algeria in 2014 was Africa’s second-largest car market in terms of sales, with more than 400,000 vehicles imported annually, but last year it cut import licenses by half.
As a result only 83,000 units were brought in, representing around $1 billion worth of sales — a sharp fall from the $7.6 billion Algeria spent on foreign cars in 2012, Ministry of Commerce figures show.
According to economist Abdelatif Rebah, Algeria’s reliance on foreign cars had become “unsustainable and dangerous for our external balance.”
“In 15 years, Algeria imported more than 4 million vehicles for close to $25 billion, not counting the cost of importing spare parts,” he told AFP.
According to the national statistics office, vehicle imports doubled between 1995 and 2015, as the economy and population grew.
Now, heartened by a similar domestic production drive in neighboring Morocco — which has a Renault plant in Tangiers producing 200,000 models a year — Algeria is eyeing homegrown car manufacturing.
The French motor giant opened a multi-million-euro plant in Paris’s former colony in 2014, with an eventual yearly output set to hit 75,000 vehicles.
In November, Volkswagen signed an agreement with its Algerian sales partner for the construction of a vehicle assembly plant in Relizane, 320 kilometers (200 miles) southwest of the capital Algiers.
The plant will produce several models, including the Volkswagen Golf, SEAT Ibiza and Skoda Octavia as well as the Caddy.
Algeria’s Industry Ministry says it has another dozen such projects in the planning, but experts have expressed doubts over quality assurance.
“Due to decades of deindustrialization... to benefit imports, the level of technological development in our country cannot currently ensure a sufficient level of quality sub-contracting,” Rebah said.
He noted that opting to assemble cars from imported parts often ends up producing a more expensive final product than simply importing finished models.
Although the percentage of car parts manufactured locally is currently negligible, the government has plans to increase that proportion to 40-50 percent within five years.
It also plans to produce 500,000 units per year by 2019 — a rate some analysts say will barely keep up with domestic demand, let alone helping to boost export stock.
Car industry expert Reda Amrani said Algeria had an “immediate” need for 600,000 private cars and another 100,000 industrial vehicles.
“Within two years of production starting at these factories, 20 to 30 percent needs to be destined for export,” he said.


Gulf of Oman tanker attacks jolt oil-import dependent Asia

Updated 15 June 2019
0

Gulf of Oman tanker attacks jolt oil-import dependent Asia

  • Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz have alarmed Japan, China and South Korea
  • Japan’s conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was in Tehran when the attack happened

SEOUL: The blasts detonated far from the bustling megacities of Asia, but the attack this week on two tankers in the strategic Strait of Hormuz hits at the heart of the region’s oil import-dependent economies.

While the violence only directly jolted two countries in the region — one of the targeted ships was operated by a Tokyo-based company, a nearby South Korean-operated vessel helped rescue sailors — it will unnerve major economies throughout Asia.

Officials, analysts and media commentators on Friday hammered home the importance of the Strait of Hormuz for Asia, calling it a crucial lifeline, and there was deep interest in more details about the still-sketchy attack and what the US and Iran would do in the aftermath.

In the end, whether Asia shrugs it off, as some analysts predict, or its economies shudder as a result, the attack highlights the widespread worries over an extreme reliance on a single strip of water for the oil that fuels much of the region’s shared progress.

Here is a look at how Asia is handling rising tensions in a faraway but economically crucial area, compiled by AP reporters from around the world:

WHY ASIA WORRIES

The oil, of course.

Japan, South Korea and China don’t have enough of it; the Middle East does, and much of it flows through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, which is the passage between the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

This could make Asia vulnerable to supply disruptions from US-Iran tensions or violence in the strait.

The attack comes months after Iran threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz to retaliate against US economic sanctions, which tightened in April when  the Trump administration decided to end sanctions exemptions for the five biggest importers of Iranian oil, which included China and US allies South Korea and Japan.

Japan is the world’s fourth-largest consumer of oil — after the US, China and India — and relies on the Middle East for 80 per cent of its crude oil supply. The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster led to a dramatic reduction in Japanese nuclear power generation and increased imports of natural gas, crude oil, fuel oil and coal.

In an effort to comply with Washington, Japan says it no longer imports oil from Iran. Officials also say Japanese oil companies are abiding by the embargo because they don’t want to be sanctioned. But Japan still gets oil from other Middle East nations using the Strait of Hormuz for transport.

South Korea, the world’s fifth largest importer of crude oil, also depends on the Middle East for the vast majority of its supplies.

Last month, South Korea halted its Iranian oil imports as its waivers from US sanctions on Teheran expired, and it has reportedly tried to increase oil imports from other countries.

China, the world’s largest importer of Iranian oil, “understands its growth model is vulnerable to a lack of energy sovereignty,” according to market analyst Kyle Rodda of IG, an online trading provider, and has been working over the last several years to diversify its suppliers. That includes looking to Southeast Asia and, increasingly, some oil-producing nations in Africa.

THE GEOGRAPHY AND THE POLITICS

Asia and the Middle East are linked by a flow of oil, much of it coming by sea and dependent on the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran threatened to close the strait in April. It also appears poised to break a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, an accord that US President Donald Trump withdrew from last year. Under the deal saw Tehran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of crippling sanctions.

For both Japan and South Korea, there is extreme political unease to go along with the economic worries stirred by the violence in the strait.

Both nations want to nurture their relationship with Washington, a major trading partner and military protector. But they also need to keep their economies humming, which requires an easing of tension between Washington and Tehran.

Japan’s conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was in Tehran, looking to do just that when the attack happened.

His limitations in settling the simmering animosity, however, were highlighted by both the timing of the attack and a comment by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who told Abe that he had nothing to say to Trump.

In Japan, the world’s third largest economy, the tanker attack was front-page news.

The Nikkei newspaper, Japan’s major business daily, said that if mines are planted in the Strait of Hormuz, “oil trade will be paralyzed.” The Tokyo Shimbun newspaper called the Strait of Hormuz Japan’s “lifeline.”

Although the Japanese economy and industry minister has said there will be no immediate effect on stable energy supplies, the Tokyo Shimbun noted “a possibility that Japanese people’s lives will be affected.”

South Korea, worried about Middle East instability, has worked to diversify its crude sources since the energy crises of the 1970s and 1980s.

THE FUTURE

Analysts said it’s highly unlikely that Iran would follow through on its threat to close the strait. That’s because a closure could also disrupt Iran’s exports to China, which has been working with Russia to build pipelines and other infrastructure that would transport oil and gas into China.

For Japan, the attack in the Strait of Hormuz does not represent an imminent threat to Tokyo’s oil supply, said Paul Sheldon, chief geopolitical adviser at S&P Global Platts Analytics.

“Our sense is that it’s not a crisis yet,” he said of the tensions.

Seoul, meanwhile, will likely be able to withstand a modest jump in oil prices unless there’s a full-blown military confrontation, Seo Sang-young, an analyst from Seoul-based Kiwoom Securities, said.

“The rise in crude prices could hurt areas like the airlines, chemicals and shipping, but it could also actually benefit some businesses, such as energy companies (including refineries) that produce and export fuel products like gasoline,” said Seo, pointing to the diversity of South Korea’s industrial lineup. South Korea’s shipbuilding industry could also benefit as the rise in oil prices could further boost the growing demand for liquefied natural gas, or LNG, which means more orders for giant tankers that transport such gas.