Flexibility and finesse essential to enduring Saudi-Russia oil deal

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak. (Reuters)
Updated 07 June 2019

Flexibility and finesse essential to enduring Saudi-Russia oil deal

  • There had been melodramatic suggestions that the panel on global energy markets at Russia’s premier economic gathering would be some kind of high noon stand-off
  • One of the themes of the conference has been the growing closeness of the Saudi-Russia relationship, not just in oil but extending across industrial and financial sectors

ST. PETERSBURG: The message that came across loud and clear from the energy sector gathered in St. Petersburg on Friday was that the entente between Saudi Arabia and Russia on oil supply limits is here to stay, but that all parties to the deal will need to show finesse and flexibility in how it is operated.
There had been melodramatic suggestions that the panel on global energy markets at Russia’s premier economic gathering would be some kind of “high noon” stand-off over production limits, but no such outcome was likely or forthcoming.
The two main architects of the alliance — Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih and his Russian counterpart Alexander Novak — have too much respect for each other, as was made clear at Friday’s meeting, for such an outcome.
More importantly, there is consensus between them that the arrangement has served both the global oil industry, and the economies of their two countries, well. Novak said the objectives of the agreement are being met. The alternative of letting the market go the way it did in 2015 is “unacceptable,” said Al-Falih.
In fact, the cuts regime may be more needed now than ever, both men agreed. “Fundamentals are no longer the biggest driver of oil prices,” the Russian said, while Al-Falih pointed out that Saudi Arabia and OPEC+ could only affect the supply side of the equation. “Demand is influenced by macro factors,” like connected worries about economic growth and global trade tensions, while “sentiment and expectation are also outside our control,” he said.
So in an uncertain world, the stability of an OPEC+ deal is essential. But the devil is in the detail, and this has to be pinned down at the coming full meeting of OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers, which both men were adamant would take place soon.
This is where the flexibility will come in. There is a consensus that the supply deal will continue — “rolled over” in the industry parlance — but both men agreed there was still work to be done to get to a definitive arrangement. “We will come to a decision, but it will not be cast in concrete. We can always adjust up or down as the need may be,” said Al-Falih, recognizing that the volatile global economic and geopolitical outlook might affect their calculations in the future.
One of the themes of the conference has been the growing closeness of the Saudi-Russia relationship, not just in oil but extending across industrial and financial sectors, right through to cultural ties. Neither side wants to risk that relationship for the sake of a few dollars a barrel.
The imminent rollover may also be prompted by a recognition that even tougher economic times might be ahead. Daniel Yergin, the oil expert who was also on the panel, was asked what would be needed to resolve China-US trade tensions at the upcoming G20 summit in Japan.
“A miracle,” he replied.


EU leaders to clash over money as Brexit blows hole in budget

Updated 20 February 2020

EU leaders to clash over money as Brexit blows hole in budget

  • Britain’s exit leaves 75 billion euro hole in bloc’s finances
  • For next 7-year cycle, starting point for talks is 1.074% of GNI
BRUSSELS: European Union leaders will clash this week over the EU’s 2021-2027 budget as Britain’s exit leaves a 75 billion euro ($81 billion) hole in the bloc’s finances just as it faces costly challenges such as becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
The budget is the most tangible expression of key areas on which the EU members must focus over the next seven years and their willingness to stump up.
For the coming seven-year cycle, the starting point for talks is 1.074% of the bloc’s gross national income (GNI), or 1.09 trillion euros. By contrast, EU national budgets claw in 47% of annual output (GDP) on average.
Still, disputes over hundredths of percentage points have kept EU and government officials busy for the last two years and many diplomats remain skeptical that a deal will be reached on Thursday and Friday, when leaders meet in Brussels.
“Tomorrow’s summit is a complex and complicated summit because the proposal we have received does not meet our expectations,” said Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Italy is one of the net contributors to the common EU pot.
The EU budget gets money from customs duties on goods entering its single market, a cut of sales tax, antitrust fines imposed by the EU on companies, and from national contributions.
It spends money on subsidies for EU farmers, on equalizing living standards across the bloc, border management, research, security and various non-EU aid programs.
Some net contributors — the “frugal four” of the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and Denmark — want to limit the budget to 1.00% of GNI. Germany, the biggest contributor, is prepared to accept a bit more, but 1.07 is too high for Berlin.

Cohesion funds
The European Commission has proposed 1.1% and the European Parliament, which will vote on the budget, wants 1.3%. For net beneficiaries such as Poland, larger is better.
For many central and eastern European countries, EU “cohesion funds” are crucial. “The costs related to Brexit and other challenges should be more equitably distributed,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote in the Financial Times, adding this was not the case due to proposed deep cuts for cohesion policies and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
But with less money coming in because of Brexit, some net contributors argue there is simply less to share around. Also, more money should be spent to modernize the EU economy rather than on preserving agriculture, they say.
EU leaders will discuss the idea of a tax on plastic waste that would go to EU coffers and sharing some profits from trading carbon emission permits.
The EU is also considering other taxes — on the digital economy, on flying, on financial transactions and on products made with high CO2 emissions imported into the EU.
Commission officials warn time is running out and the EU risks starting next year with no money to protect its borders, finance research and fund student exchanges, or equalize standards of living.