Pakistan official’s criticism of China’s ‘Silk Road’ projects raises worries

A Pakistani soldier stands guard beside a ship carrying containers during the opening of a trade project in Gwadar port, some 700 kms west of Karachi on November 13, 2016. (AFP file photo)
Updated 10 September 2018

Pakistan official’s criticism of China’s ‘Silk Road’ projects raises worries

  • Commerce Minister Abdul Razak Dawood suggested that all projects in the $57-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor program were eligible for suspension and review
  • He said that China may have been granted too-favorable terms in many projects by the former government of Nawaz Sharif

KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani official's critical comments about projects funded by China to the tune of billions of dollars rattled investors and sparked worries on Monday of a souring in ties, a day after Beijing's top government diplomat concluded a visit.

Abdul Razak Dawood, the Pakistani cabinet member for commerce, industry and investment, suggested that all projects in the $57-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor program could be eligible for suspension in a review to be conducted this week under the orders of new Prime Minister Imran Khan.

"I think we should put everything on hold for a year, so we can get our act together," Dawood told the Financial Times in an interview. "Perhaps we can stretch CPEC out over another five years or so."

He added that he thought China had been granted too-favorable terms in many projects by the former government of Nawaz Sharif.

"Chinese companies received tax breaks, many breaks and have an undue advantage in Pakistan; this is one of the things we're looking at because it's not fair that Pakistan companies should be disadvantaged," Dawood said.

Pakistani markets fell in early trading on Monday, with the benchmark KSE 100 index down 477.38 just after midday at 40,374 points, before recovering to close at 40,684, still down 0.4 percent.

Dawood's comments were "mind-boggling" and rare public criticism of China, said Mohammad Zubair, privatization minister in the previous government.

"This is probably the harshest statement about the Chinese in the last 50 years or so," Zubair told Reuters. "Even if there are issues with the Chinese, those issues could be dealt with in private rather than being made public."

Later on Monday, Dawood told domestic broadcaster Geo TV that his statements had been misconstrued and he would clarify them later.

The critical comments were published just after the Chinese government's top diplomat, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, visited Pakistan and the two sides reaffirmed the mutual benefits of the Beijing-funded projects.

While Khan, a former cricket star, has made no secret he plans to review all government projects and expenditure, the finance ministry last month said Pakistan was "fully committed to undertake and complete CPEC projects in their totality."

Crude oil price rise signals a return to balanced market

Updated 3 min 57 sec ago

Crude oil price rise signals a return to balanced market

RIYADH: Crude oil prices recovered by the end of the week, with the Brent crude price settling above $60 per barrel after deteriorating below that level during the week. The Brent price rose to $62.70 per barrel and WTI rose to $53.80 per barrel.
The price market structure for the Brent crude price has flipped to a slight backwardation after hovering in a slight contango for the past two weeks. Even if the OPEC+ output cut of 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) is yet to be reflected in the market, this signals an upcoming tight market amid strong supply-demand fundamentals and a well-balanced market for the first half of 2019.
Conversely, some market participants assumed a far more bearish fundamental outlook, while output cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) should limit inventory builds and settle the market in a sustainable range above $75 per barrel for Brent, especially when the US continues to push for zero waivers on Iranian crude oil imports.
Iran’s crude oil output averaged 3.8 million bpd in 2017 and fell to 2.7 million bpd by the end of 2018, despite the US granting waivers in early November 2018 to eight of the largest importers of Iranian crude oil. If the US does not intend to renew the waivers, Iran’s crude oil output is likely to fall further below 2.5 million bpd.
The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) monthly report came with stronger oil demand this year compared with 2018, despite the expected economic slowdown amid concerns over economic growth in China and the US.
The IEA also reported that US oil output will rise by 1.3 million bpd in 2019, though S&P Global Platts reported US oil rigs dropping for the ninth consecutive week when Brent prices fell below $70 per barrel in mid-November 2018. Baker-Hughes drilling statistics show that the US oil-rig count has been moving in a relatively narrow band of 858-886 since June 2018.
China, as the world’s second-largest economy and largest crude oil importer, took advantage of the low oil prices in late 2018 and imported a record
10.35 million bpd in December 2018, amid independent refiners lifting their import quotas. China’s crude oil imports in 2019 are likely to rise before the impact of the OPEC+ output cuts on the market.
In late 2018, US refiners that have enjoyed record wide discounts of Western Canadian Select (WCS) to WTI are now threatened as this discount has narrowed amid Alberta’s output cuts of 325,000 bpd throughout 2019.
Consequently, US refining margins are threatened, while American refiners are already struggling with a glut of refined product inventories. Wide Canadian price spreads have played a major role in justifying rampant refinery utilization in the US, particularly in the mid-continent. Nevertheless, the narrowed discount means higher net-backs for Canadian oil sands producers.
The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported mid-continent refining utilization capacity averaging around 93 percent in 2018, when US refiners basically profited from the widening WTI/WCS spread.
Planned winter maintenance in US refineries started in early January. This will give some relief to the US downstream amid robust refined product inventories. Some refiners might choose to extend maintenance in an effort to bring a degree of balance to the oversupplied refined products market.