Commodity Corner

Views on commodities and energy

from Global News Journal:

Can export bans be challenged at the WTO?

 

 

Russian grain harvest

Russia’s ban on grain exports as a heat wave parches crops in the world’s third biggest wheat exporter has raised questions whether such export curbs break World Trade Organization rules. Russia is not a member of the WTO, and it remains to be seen how its new grain policy will affect its 17-year-old bid to join. But other grain exporters, such as Ukraine, which is also considering export curbs, are part of the global trade referee.

WTO rules are quite clear that members cannot interfere with imports and exports in a way that disrupts trade or discriminates against other members. But in practice most WTO rules aim to stop countries blocking imports – shutting out competitor’s goods to give their own domestic producers an unfair advantage.

WTO protest

 

 

Saudi Arabia and other members of the oil cartel OPEC (not all of whom are members of the WTO) routinely control the production and hence export of oil to defend target prices, but have not faced challenges at the WTO.

What can be challenged are restrictions on exports designed to hurt competitors. The United States, European Union and Mexico are currently suing China at the WTO over Beijing’s export duties and other restraints on raw materials. They argue that these make the raw materials more expensive for foreign competitors, putting them at a disadvantage to Chinese processors.

from MacroScope:

Argentina set for wheat windfall

Not everyone is upset about the 50 percent surge in wheat prices over the past month.

Wheat's rise to 2-year highs was caused first by heavy rains in Canada and now by a Russian export ban that was triggered by its worst drought in decades. There are floods in Pakistan, another major wheat grower. But while the wheat market shenanigans are triggering much hand-wringing across developing nations, Argentina, one of the world's top seven wheat exporters, may be set for a windfall.

from Summit Notebook:

Would the last person to leave the smelter please turn out the lights?

For UC RUSAL, one simple act is crucial to reducing costs.
Bonuses for managers at the world's largest aluminium company
depend on the company's 75,000 workers heeding the message.
"We have to introduce a new culture: if you leave the
office, turn off the lights," Artyom Volynets, UC RUSAL's deputy
chief executive for strategy, said at Reuters Global Mining and
Steel Summit on Monday.
"We have 16 smelters, each with their own headquarters and
offices. We employ 75,000 people. If each one of them is
switching off the lights at the end of their shift, that would
help tremendously."
UC RUSAL embarked on a major drive to slash production costs
last year as part of an ultimately successful attempt to secure
Russia's largest ever private sector debt restructuring.
Easy access to Siberian hydroelectric power, compared with
relatively high-cost coal used to power smelters in other parts
of the world, affords UC RUSAL a distinct cost advantage when
making aluminium used in transport, construction and packaging.
In the first half of 2009, it cost UC RUSAL an average
$1,400 to produce a tonne of aluminium. The metal is now selling
at above $2,200 a tonne.
UC RUSAL has cut costs by sourcing cheaper raw materials of
better quality and improving throughput rates at its smelters in
Siberia, which account for about 80 percent of its total output.
But cheap power in Siberia had also led to complacency.
"Our smelters are located in probably the only remaining
major energy-long region in the world. Therefore, if you buy
power at 2 cents per kilowatt, you don't really care how much
you spend," Volynets said.
"For my colleagues on the operational side of the business,
their key performance indicators are 100 percent tied to cost
improvements," he said. "They will not be compensated if these
improvements are not implemented."
(Writing by Robin Paxton in Moscow)

from From Reuters.com:

Mining gold in Russia’s remote Chukotka region

Chukotka, a region revived in the last eight years by the $2.5 billion investment of Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich, produced a fifth of Russia's gold in the first half of this year. Gold is the region's passport to growth after Abramovich quit as governor last July.

Only South Africa holds more gold than Russia, but Moscow's fragmented industry has struggled to access vast reserves in its inhospitable Far East. The region was first mined in the 1930s by prisoners of the Gulags set up by Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

from Environment Forum:

Calling Dr. Strangelove!

Perhaps you've heard about the Russian submarines patrolling international waters off the U.S. East Coast (if you haven't, take a look at a Reuters story about it) in what feels like an echo of the old Cold War. The Pentagon's not worried about this particular venture, but there are concerns from the U.S. energy industry about another Russian foray -- this one in concert with Cuba. In rhetoric that may ring a bell with anyone who saw the 1964 satirical nuclear-fear movie "Dr. Strangelove,"
the Washington-based Institute for Energy Research is sounding the alarm about a Russian-Cuban deal to drill for offshore oil near Florida.

"Russia, Communist Cuba Advance Offshore Energy Production Miles Off Florida's Coast," is the title on the institute's news release. Below that is the prescription for action: "Efforts Should Send Strong Message to Interior Dept. to Open OCS in Five-Year Plan." OCS stands for outer continental shelf, an area that was closed to oil drilling until the Bush administration opened it last year in a largely symbolic move aimed at driving down the sky-high gasoline prices of the Summer of 2008.

Will Russia cut aluminum production after winter thaw?

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On Alcoa’s quarterly conference call this week, CEO Klaus Kleinfeld pointed out that there is currently a 1.4 million tonne aluminum surplus in the world outside of China, and therefore to expect more production to come off line in coming months above the already-announced 1.6 million tonnes of production that has yet to be implemented.

aluminum_supply_ver2

Source: Alcoa

Both Alcoa, as the world’s largest aluminum producer, and China, producing more than 13 million tonnes in 2008, have idled substantial percentages of their output.