Tag Archives: trade

“New Chapter” for two countries

Book your flights to Cuba, because barriers and travel warnings are now down. For the first time in half a century tensions between the United States and the island off the coast of Florida, which stood as a dark power during the Cold War times on the side of Russia, have been eased.

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a move to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cuba (Politico). The move and efforts have suddenly been made known to the public as Cuba released a long time U.S. hostage who had been held captive since 2009. Of course U.S. citizen’s lives are important, but what pushed such a big move for friendship after the release of one hostage?

“[Alan] Gross was convicted of espionage by a Cuban court in 2011 and sentenced to 15 years for bringing telecommunication devices into Cuba” (WREG Memphis).

In addition, the United States has released 3 Cuban spies.

President Barack Obama (left) greets Cuban President Raul Castro during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela on Dec. 10, 2013, in Johannesburg, South Africa. | Getty

Although seemingly sudden, the deals between U.S. and Cuban officials has been culminating over the past year. Obama calls the embargoes on Cuba to be a failure.

What this means:

    • Travel restrictions eased
    • Increased exports of U.S. goods to Cuba
    • U.S. travelers to bring in some items
    • Embassies will be opened in both countries

While only Congress can formally overturn the five decades-long embargo, the White House has some authorities to liberalize trade and travel to the island,” WREG Memphis.

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Analysis

With the petro dollar value falling, Russia loosing influence and Venezuela’s economy faltering in the midst of falling prices; some of Cuba’s main financial and export partners are withering at the core. It’s no wonder, if Cuba along with other countries is turning its eye to new partners. It’s not about the prices of oil, but petro politics and who’s producing it. The reality is the U.S. and Canada fracking and shale revolutions are changing dynamics. The global economy and relations are switching as can already be seen as almost a 50-year silence is being broken between two former rival countries.

 

 

Endless Plummet? Gas Prices Continue to Drop

Oil prices have hit a record low falling below $60 per barrel. Although for gasoline consumers the drop in prices are accompanied with happy bank accounts, other production sectors and countries are starting to feel the effects.

From oil fields in places like Texas to those in Saudi Arabia and Russia, along with extraction plants and businesses, are being affected by the fall in prices. Countries like Venezuela and Russia, whose economies greatly depend on oil extraction and exportation are some of the hardest hit as they try to maintain production quotas in the face of a saturated market.

“Russia’s rouble went into free-fall in Tuesday trading, falling repeatedly to hit record lows, despite the central bank’s dramatic decision to raise interest rates from 10.5% to 17%,” according to BBC.

Why are oil prices down?

The simple answer is that there is a surplus in the supply of oil, but a decreased demand for oil in the global market. This problem has been perpetuated by the exploration and the energy independence revolution in the United States and Canada. The extraction of shale oil in the United States has boomed and created alternative energy sources that are messing with the natural flow of oil trade (Boston Globe).

 

Bumpy Road Ahead for Latin America

Pass by a Shell or Chevron gas station and the prices for gasoline…are unbelievably low. There was a time, where paying $20 would almost fill the tank up half way, however now for some cars $20 can get you about 75% of a full tank. In February 2011, prices per barrel of oil rose above $100 USD (Washington Post). It seemed as if prices would remain around the $100 per barrel price; the oil cartels would profit and the petro world would keep turning.

Reality check: prices can only rise so much until they plummet and the market decides to balance itself out. The problem with the oil industry is not just the development of alternate energy sources, but the oil surplus that has been produced in the market has collided with a crippled world economy. Cartels such as OPEC have refused to drop their production quotas despite the oil price crash. Prices per barrel fell below $70, according to The Washington Post.

Most Latin American economies have been switching to oil exploration, extraction and exportation. However, the region, along with the rest of the world, is about to be the titanic hitting its iceberg, with something unseen looming in the water. The dropped oil prices are just one reflection of the weakness of the world economy. Great development within regions such as Latin America has been achieved within the last decades, but the future does not look bright.

“These economies thrived because of their sound, rule-based policy frameworks, rising commodity prices, and favorable global financial conditions,” said IMF director Christine Lagarde at a regional summit in Santiago (ABC News). Lagarde continued, “the road ahead looks increasingly bumpy,” for the region’s economy.

Regional growth is supposed to remain at about 1.3 percent for this year, and raise slightly to 2.2 percent for 2015. Latin America’s economy has generally been heavily dependent on export goods, however demand and commodity value will continue to slow as the market slows.

IMF Chief Legarde speaking in Chile on the outlook for Latin America. Photo: Mercopress

What the region is posed with now, is shifting its focus from being cultivation and export based to developing infrastructure. The region must now (like it should have been doing a long time ago) begin greatly investing in structural reforms, such as education to ‘lift productivity and create economic diversification’ according to IMF director Lagarde.

“Latin America’s middle class had grown by about 50 percent since 2003, partly because of a reduction in labor income inequality, including through rising minimum wages,” according to Lagarde.

Oil Cartel decision does not phase Venezuela’s Maduro

The reign of OPEC may be coming to an end. Oil prices have taken their sharpest plunge in three years according to Bloomberg. Latin America, the region that accounts for the largest crude oil reserves outside of the Middle East, has begun to feel the shock waves of the recent petro crisis.

OPEC, the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries, was founded in 1960 with the first five member countries being: Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Today, Ecuador has been another country from Latin America that has become an OPEC member.

Since September, prices have dropped significantly while alternate energy sources have been explored, for example the increased interest in natural gas and pipeline systems. The petroleum cartel, OPEC, an organization of countries with some of the largest oil reserves in the world, is facing off against a new era of alternate energy. The petro dollar has become depreciated.

“In just a matter of months, the price of a barrel of oil has dropped from more than $100 to about $70, and gas is now cheaper than it has been in years,” according to Fox News.

OPEC and the petro industry marked an increase in supply in the face of a falling global demand for oil; this combination creating the devaluation of the petro dollar, says Telegraph.

WTI Crude Oil Spot Price Chart
Photo: The Street

OPEC met this past week, and besides the fall of the crude oil prices, OPEC members have decided to not minimize current production quotas. The cartel of oil-producing nations, in the past has been able to fix prices based on their ability to increase or decrease their supply of crude oil. OPEC’s decision will inevitably lead the prices to continue to fall as there becomes a surplus of crude oil in the market.

The decision to maintain production, at about 30 million barrels a day, is seen by many as OPEC’s confidence in the resurgence of demand for oil despite the United States great success with increased fracking and shale gas extraction. The decision made by OPEC is seen as a response to hype about new energy take overs.

Although the organization decided to face off against the increasing value of shale gas and other competing energy sources, sticking out the economic downturn at the moment, some OPEC nations may not be able to handle the short-term sacrifice. Countries like Venezuela and Nigeria who have economies almost completely dependent on the production and exportation of crude oil will be much more greatly affected with falling oil revenue prices below $100.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, after the OPEC meeting, announced the country will cut public spending, due to the fall of petroleum demand. Surprisingly, the first thing to be reviewed and cut will be the wages and salaries of leadership officials, “starting with the president of the republic.”

Cuts will be made to all the ministries and state owned enterprises. Maduro doesn’t see the fall in gas prices and its effect on the country’s economy as an “evil.” In his opinion, according to El Comercio, he sees it as an opportunity to cut unnecessary spending and reorient the country.

Despite recent problems of questionable dictatorship type actions from the Venezuelan government, Maduro assured that even though there will be cuts,

“’ni un bolívar se va a tocar de las misiones’ o programas sociales y señaló que, por el contrario, se ampliarán las inversiones en materia social.”

In this address to the country saying that social programs will not be touched or cut, but on the contrary, will receive increased investments and attention.

Venezuela: Maduro recorta gasto público por caída del petróleo
Maduro assures the public, that government sectors and officials will take the price cuts, but not social and public programs. Photo: Reuters.

G20 or G5? BRICS leaders reunite in Brisbane

Group Twenty, known as the G20, is a summit held among the world’s economically developing elite. The forum is made up of the following 19 countries + the European Union: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Depending of the location of the summit per year, the residing president can invite guest countries if wanted.

“The G20 heads of government came into being in 2008 because economic catastrophe loomed, and the existing global governance organizations and institutions were unequal to the tasks at hand,” according to CIGI and its report on the future of the G20.

This year the 2014 G20 summit took place in Brisbane, Australia. As stated by the CIGI report, the G20 was started after the 2008 Financial Crisis. The forum has promoted economic stability and has helped to realign the economy in the right direction, by the means of collaboration and communication between world leaders.

“One of the key items on the G20 agenda is new transparency and beneficial ownership requirements that are aimed at fighting money laundering and the financing of terrorism. The requirements also support the OECD’s and G20’s efforts to prevent other serious offences such as tax crimes and corruption,” says The Sydney Morning Herald.

The G20 aims for sustainable growth and development, and since 2008 it has introduced $3 trillion of financial stimulus into its central bank system between the pact countries. G20 also (attempts to) tackle other issues that cause geopolitical friction, this year in Brisbane conflicts such as: the rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine and the looming threat in the Middle East will also be focused on.

“Well, Washington and its string of puppets did try to turn the G20 into a farce. Fortunately the adults in the room had some business to do,” reported Russia Today, satirically addressing the majority of the G20 as a “tiny bunch of Anglo-Saxon political buffoons [attempting] to drown out the Global South.”

In the Russia Today report, the work of the adults, or rather the “G5” BRICS nations, were reunite and discuss matters of real importance. As coined in 2001 by Goldman Sachs, “Building Better Global Economic BRICS,” the countries with rapidly emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa make up the BRICS power-pact. Matters such as the BRICS New Development Bank investments and a restructuring of the decrepit IMF were at the top of the list according to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

In 2010, the IMF’s Board of Governors approved a reform that was key to increasing voting power of emerging markets, for example those of Latin America and BRICS nations for a more equal economic trading field, something that is worse for Republicans in Washington than even communism itself, says Russia Today. Putin confirmed that trade between Russia and China and the rest of Asia is planned to increase from 25 percent to 40 percent of Russia’s GDP (2096.78 billion USD).

Russia-China trade investment, which has increased in Latin America, is increasingly in rubles and yuan depreciating the U.S. dollar. For BRICS nations this trade is welcomed with fellow partner countries and companies. Brazil, under the reelection of President Dilma Rousseff, a leftist leaning president, is one of the main countries in Latin America shifting away from U.S. influence.

(L-R) Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma join their hands at a group photo session during the 6th BRICS summit in Fortaleza July 15, 2014.(Reuters / Nacho Doce )
(L-R) Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma join their hands at a group photo session during the 6th BRICS summit in Fortaleza July 15, 2014.(Reuters / Nacho Doce)

Xi and His Crew

This past week, President Xi Jingping opened the 22nd APEC summit in Beijing, hoping to “inject new vitality into Asia-Pacific development,” according to an APEC news release.

Monumental deals have been discussed as the event has unfolded in the past week. Some of the world’s largest leaders, the United States and China, have hacked out plans to work together on implementing new policies to reduce pollution. With growing unrest in China over smothering air pollution problems and environmentalist groups breathing down Obama’s neck, the world was still surprised at the momentous pact that “almost wasn’t,” according to Politico.

Barack Obama and Xi Jinping are shown. | AP Photo
AP Photo

As Xi’s interests expand far beyond the United States, he relentlessly makes an effort to gain a developmental foothold in Latin America.

Wednesday of this past week, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala moved forward with a memorandum signing off further trilateral relations with China and Brasil.

At the summit, trilateral relations between the three countries were discussed, but in specific, the constructing of a transcontinental railway between Peru and Brasil. This railway would be sponsored and funded by Chinese enterprises.

China apoyará la construcción del ferrocarril Perú-Brasil
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and Chinese President Xi Jinping secure transcontinental railroad deal. Photo: El Comercio/Andina

Peru already has a completed transoceanic highway within the country; the development of a new transcontinental railroad is a bit curious. The 3,400 mile transoceanic highway from Peru to Brasil opened up trade and new markets between the two countries, but at great environmental costs as the building of the highway passed through the Peruvian and Brasilian Amazonian region, angering environmentalists and indigenous groups.

The Chinese sponsored railway proposal would serve the purpose of commodity based freight trains, opening the two markets up to each other, but also integrating the Chinese market into the mix.

“It’s similar to what China is doing in Africa,” he said. “Helping to improve the infrastructure of the domestic economies in Latin America increases the potential market for goods and services coming out of China,” according to China Daily.

Almost 21 times the figure from 2000, in the last year, trade between China and Latin America reached $261 billion.

Former Chinese ambassador to Brasil and Argentina, Shen Yun’ao, expressed the relevance and importance of Latin America and its raw natural resources; ore, grain and meat. The construction of the proposed 1,630 km railway train will make the flow of these goods more efficient.

“Brazilian officials have long expressed their wish to see Chinese rail companies get more involved in the nation’s infrastructure program, highlighting the competitiveness and experience of China, home of the world’s largest rail network,” China Daily.

Proposed transcontinental railway system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Russia Really the Dark Power it is Presumed to Be?

With the introduction of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) under the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev, the cohesiveness of the USSR was splintered eventually leading to its demise in 1991. The USSR was then broken down into 14 independent republics and since then “has shifted its post-Soviet democratic ambitions in favor of a centralized
semi-authoritarian state in which the leadership seeks to legitimize its rule through managed national elections, populist appeals by President Putin, and continued economic growth,” according to the CIA World Factbook.

Although about 1.8 times the size of the United States, Russia is a region that only houses  roughly a third of the U.S. population (143 million in comparison to a U.S. population of 316 million). The percentage of citizens that live in urban areas is whopping 73.8% as of 2011 according to the CIA WF.

In the backyard of Russia’s oil paradise: Pavlovo village was once a quiet backwater in the forest-steppe of Perm Region. In 1997, however, ecological disaster struck, with oil and chemicals entering the local river and food chain. Photo: ODR

Despite Russian predominance in world news, economically Russian industries are a failure, according to Texas A&M University professor of Russian, Brett Cooke. Following the fall of the USSR, which ended state-ruled enterprises, oligarchs seized these franchises. However, Russian industries never sufficiently adapted to the modern economy. Russia is comprised of a great expansive land mass, but because of its comparatively small population density, diversification of industrial growth has faltered. Today, Russia’s exports and economic wealth are reliant on the production oil related products.

“Russia produces oil, basically nothing else,” said Professor Cooke.

Professor Cooke proceeded to ask; why would Russia be importing agricultural products? Why from Latin America? According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, Russia’s main imports aren’t even food related; the top imports consisting of goods such as: cars, packaged medicament, vehicle parts and computers.

The level of Russia’s food independence is stable, according to Tass, a Russian news agency. Russia’s main agricultural good is wheat. However, the country is lacking in other crucial food areas.

“…the level of self-sufficiency regarding certain types of dairy products (cheese, butter) was significantly below the required margin. Moreover, the figures of food independence concerning certain meat products, namely beef, were twice as low as the required margin.”

In recent times, Russian food security has been questionable due to Western sanctions implemented in August in response to the Crimea invasion; these sanctions have pushed Russia to realize its alienation. In the wake of these sanctions, Russia has doubled its imports of Argentinian beef (Global Meat News), while seeking out new strategic partners, which has been previously investigated in this blog.

Argentinian beef production company. Photo: Mercosur

Russia has allotted 1.5 trillion rubles ($42 billion) to invest in domestic agricultural production/development. Despite the investment, local producers are weary of the promise for greater production and efficiency within the country.

“It is extremely difficult to compete with foreign producers due to the investment factor in Russia, loans and infrastructure costs are much higher than in Europe and the U.S.,” said Artyom Belov, CEO of the National Association of Milk Producers, according to The Moscow Times.

Russian food sector. Photo: ITAR-TASS/Nikolai Alexandrov

This news from the agricultural sector only illustrates part of the problems facing Russia and the great depreciation of the ruble. Russia is seen as a dark illusive power, with an untouchable leader, Putin, at the head of the country whom steals the spot light and fills the tabloids of Western media. However, behind the Putin mask, the physically enormous country is vastly underpopulated and in a “time-freeze.”

Putin/Russia is painted by American media in three ways. Firstly, Russia is a country that reacts in a manner that is interpreted as it trying to maintain/regain influence over former Soviet spaces. Secondly, Russia wants to reemerge as a world power like during the Cold War times! And lastly, Putin reacts to the west in order to fight the spread of basic democratic/capitalistic ideals.

Recently with Putin’s visit to Latin America in July, the nation has shown that it is expanding beyond its former Soviet realm. Putin has sought to rekindle old flames while establishing new relations with countries such as Cuba, Nicaragua, Brasil, Argentina and Chile. During this “Latin American Tour,” Putin and his new presidential confidants discussed partnered development in sectors such as energy, education and trade.

Throughout the past century, countries such as Chile and Argentina received waves of fascists according to Professor Cooke. The first wave of fascist influenced Europeans landed in Argentina in the 1920’s. A reemergence of fascism later appeared with President Juan Peron in 1946.

In Chile, leaders such as Carlos Keller and Jorge Gonzalez Marees  transitioned Chilean politics and took a position similar to that of Adolf Hitler in 1932. Later in 1938 the country’s growing fascist movement attempted a coup; it inevitably failed. Starting in 1974 the infamous regime of Augosto Pinochet controlled the country under what were argued to be fascist ideals until 1990.

A rally for Argentine populist leader, Juan Peron, when the country faced difficult economic times and a series of unstable governmental leaders. Photo: Wikia

Virtually all countries in Latin America have faced movements from the spectrum of socialism to communism. Today there has been a steady movement back to populist ideals, ideals of which President Putin is found of.

This shift of relations has been caused by many things. One of the root issues being that the United States and other western nations have acted as if Russia no longer matters, says Professor Cooke. This isolation and ostracization has caused Putin and the country to react.

There is a great contradiction within Russia itself. Why should Putin be the select? Putin with a 65% approval rate in his country, greatly over shadows the reality of his nation. Professor Cooke, who has been to Russia more times than countable, commented not only on the centralization of the population in the cities, but also the isolation of the people themselves.

“The country [due to its governmental policies] has developed a separateness…and its people are out of touch,” said Professor Cooke.

Cooke expressed how there is no checks and balances, the current government under Putin stifles growth and the opinions of those appear to be heavily influenced or intoxicated with western ideology are targeted. The country itself is moving in a fascist direction, Cooke said in a worried manner. It has recently started with bans on alcohol, to curfew times within the cities…all things that appear to be good for the people.

However,  these policies have evolved into the banning of certain “alien groups.” The Putin administration has tried to dismantle one of the most prominent human rights groups in Russia known as the Memorial Human Rights group in Russia which has been threatened to be dismantled as it is an “alien agency.”

The statistics report that Putin is at a 65% approval rating, but this neglects the opinions of those who remain unheard. Article 80 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation states that,

“The President of the Russian Federation shall determine the guidelines of the internal and foreign policies of the State.”

Therefore, if Putin decides to ban western books from the country, arrest and condemn those who speak out against him or advocate for ideas that aren’t aligned with his political propaganda, he can rightfully create whatever policy he wants under the Russian constitution to silence these people.

  • Capturing of those in protest of Putin led government. Photo: Washington Post

Cooke compares the situation within the country to that of basic historical fascist leaders. Under Hitler the Autobahn was created and under Mussolini trains ran on time.

However, Cooke continues, “fascism is sloppy and mediocre.” It appears great at first until the efficiency of the system breaks down. Russia, like the situation of Germany before the rise of Hitler is feeling isolated and underestimated; inflation and violence have perpetuated the rise of fascism in the country.

The world sees the movements of Putin, but is ignorant to the realities of the country of which he represents.

“The alienation and sanctions have just started,” Cooke said.

Putin is represented on most propaganda of him riding shirtless on a bear is what inspires the Russian Putin followers and fuels the ideology of the power of the Russian nation. Russia perpetuates arms trade with the Middle East and has growing relations with China. However it is important to note the power switch of China in the globalized world.

China itself does not condone the intervention of one country into another country, case and point Russia’s seizure of Crimea. Power changes have happened in the past two decades with China moving to the top with the largest GDP in the world, however the Chinese dragon itself may not be as aggressive as once perceived.

Putin Propaganda

Russia will continue to create allies and seek relations with new partners such as those in Latin America, but the contradiction between governmental actions and media hype compared to the actual socioeconomic situation of the country are questionable. Maybe Russia is not the great dark power it is presumed to be. As Cooke mentioned, the people self regulate. The Putin regime may be stifling the checks and balances system, but eventually something’s gotta give.