Saturday, 21 February 2009

Credit crunch plays into China's shopping plans

By David Barboza
Published: February 20, 2009

SHANGHAI: With the world suffering through a major credit crunch, China has suddenly gone shopping.
Beijing said Friday that one of its big state-owned banks, China Development Bank, agreed to lend Petrobras, the Brazilian oil giant, $10 billion in exchange for a long-term supply of oil.
That investment came after similar deals were signed this week with Russia and Venezuela, bringing China's total oil investments this month to $41 billion.
This month, Aluminum Corp. of China, the largest Chinese aluminum producer, agreed to invest $19.5 billion in Rio Tinto of Australia, one of the world's biggest mining companies. And on Monday, China Minmetals bid $1.7 billion to acquire Oz Minerals, a huge Australian zinc mining company.
Call it the new China play. Flush with cash and eager to take advantage of weak commodity prices, China is once again on the hunt for global energy and resources to power its growing economy. But this time, Chinese companies are being welcomed overseas.

With President Hu Jintao traveling this week on a "Friendship and Cooperation Tour" in Africa, where China has huge interests in resources and mining, the country's vice president, Xi Jinping, was visiting South America, meeting with the leaders of Brazil and Venezuela and signing cooperation agreements on oil and minerals.
Venezuela got a $6 billion loan from China and agreed to increase its oil exports to the country, bringing China's total investment in the country to $12 billion. In Brazil, China signed a $10 billion "loan-for-oil" deal that guaranteed the country up to 160,000 barrels a day at market prices.
And in Beijing this week, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao met his Russian counterpart after China agreed to loan Russia's struggling oil giant, Rosneft, and Russia's oil pipeline company, Transneft, $25 billion in exchange for 15 million tons of crude oil a year for 20 years.
"This is heavy energy diplomacy," said Philip Andrews-Speed, director of the energy policy center at the University of Dundee in Scotland. "If you need money you go to where the money is, and today, China's the place."
The huge investments are China's biggest since 2005, when a Chinese state-owned oil company made an unsuccessful bid for Unocal, the U.S. oil company, amid worries about whether fast-growing China was seeking to tie up global resources.
But the world has changed significantly since then. Commodity prices have fallen sharply in recent months, following a long bull market that was partly fueled by voracious Chinese demand for energy and resources. And China has built up nearly $2 trillion in foreign currency reserves, giving the country easy access to capital.
"What's changed for China is that their key competitive strength has increased, and that's capital," said Andrew Driscoll, a resources analyst at CLSA, an investment bank. "A lot of companies are begging for capital."
China wants reliable supplies of crude oil to fuel its growing transport sector; it needs iron ore for steel production, and copper and aluminum to build new homes and consumer goods.
Analysts say there are still worries about whether China will compete with other countries, like the United States and India, for oil and other natural resources.
But some analysts say China's recent investments are welcome because they will help finance much needed development, increasing the global supply of oil and natural resources at a time when many of the world's biggest banks are reluctant to lend.
"It's a good thing because a lot of projects have been postponed," Andrews-Speed said. "Oil companies may now have the money to produce oil. There's going to be more oil produced."
Analysts say that China could continue to make deals this year, for a variety of small oil and natural gas companies, mineral producers and mining companies.
This week, for instance, shares of the Australian miner Fortescue Metals rose after reports that the company was in talks with China over a big investment to help the company expand its operations.
In many cases, China has struck deals in countries that have access to large supplies of oil and minerals but where U.S. and European countries are not well positioned, like parts of Africa and the Middle East.
In one of the deals reached this week, China made an alliance with the government of Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, who has denounced U.S. policies.
While the oil deals vary in terms, analysts say they ensure China a steady supply of oil for decades to come, sometimes at favorable prices.
In Brazil, the $10 billion loan will be used to finance a deep water oil reserve that Brazil hopes will help turn the country into a major oil producer.

Recycling: we could all save cash and the planet by improving rubbish system

Councils and communities are already reaping the beneift of a scheme to change behaviour and reduce environmental impact
Trewin Restorick, Friday 20 February 2009 12.06 GMT

Normal black bin bags and rubbish on Islington side of Southgate Road. Photograph: Linda Nylind
This week we learned from the Local Government Association (LGA) that supermarkets are still producing excessive food packaging. Landfill sites across the globe are overflowing with our rubbish, and local councils and their residents are paying the price in landfill tax. The LGA argues that supermarkets should pay towards the collection of their packaging as an incentive to cut back. Yet, with such a sharp focus on supermarkets, it's easy to overlook what else can be done.
Every year UK households throw away the equivalent of three million double-decker buses – almost 30m tonnes – of rubbish. If lined one in front of the other, the queue would stretch from London to Sydney and back. While supermarkets have a lot to answer for, individuals also have the power to make decisions that will reduce their household waste. Local authorities need to look closer to home and ensure there are practical measures in place to help residents reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible.
Crucial though recycling bins and collections are, it's also vital that local authorities inform and support their residents to make sure they are doing all they can at an individual level. Research has shown that people are more likely to recycle if they see people, and organisations, around them doing it. We need to take advantage of the way in which individuals can inspire and encourage one another.
This approach is already having an impact in local authorities that are part of Global Action Plan's EcoTeams programme, which works to change behaviour and reduce environmental impact at community level through education, training and support. Small groups of households, or EcoTeams, meet regularly over a six-month period to reduce their impact on the environment. During these meetings the teams receive guidance on waste and shopping as well as energy use, transport and water. They set themselves achievable targets, and support each other in meeting them.
The results speak for themselves. Independent academic research shows that households who participate in EcoTeams programmes reduce their waste by an average of 20%. They are more likely to buy products that can be recycled over products that cannot, and try to buy products with minimal or no packaging. Local councils only need to do the maths to see that they could make themselves huge savings on recycling and landfill costs if all households in their area were doing the same.
And it's not just local councils that could be saving money. EcoTeams households make a saving of around £150 a year on their energy and water bills by reducing their gas and electricity consumption – a considerable sum in these difficult economic times.
So what is it that makes the EcoTeams programme work so well? We all know that we should be doing more to reduce our impact on the environment, but for most of us this remains a good intention which never becomes a reality. For EcoTeams members, the secret of the programme's success is being part of a group, where they will receive both support and pressure to change their behaviour.
Evidence shows that EcoTeams participants continue to carry out the pro-environmental actions for months and years after finishing the programme, and it's the focus on small but significant changes to existing lifestyles that makes these changes more likely to be sustained long term.
Rather than simply telling people what to do, we need to motivate, engage and involve them. What better way to do this than bringing people together to support and encourage one another? The Local Government Association should be commended for highlighting the need to reduce waste in the UK – but it is overlooking the unlocked potential of our local communities in helping to achieve this.
Trewin Restorick is chief executive of Global Action Plan, an independent environmental charity that encourages consumers to behave in a more environmentally responsible way.

Scotland handed leading role in renewable project

Published Date: 21 February 2009
By Gerri Peev

THE Scottish Government has been given a lead role in developing renewable technology after UK ministers struck an agreement at a summit.
Scottish politicians will look at ways of generating electricity through marine energy in the waters around Britain and Ireland. The UK government will, meanwhile, examine proposals for the grid infrastructure needed.After a meeting of devolved and national government leaders in Cardiff, Alex Salmond, the First Minister, said there was "enormous potential" for about 60,000 megawatts.Mr Salmond added: "Scotland is leading the world in renewable energy and we are delighted to be leading this important work stream on behalf of the whole British-Irish Council."In a statement from the Scotland Office, Paul Murphy, the Welsh Secretary, said that ministers had agreed on what was being done to combat the recession across the UK.Despite his upbeat assessment, talks at a meeting next week between Mr Salmond and Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, are expected to be more tense.Mr Salmond is furious at a cut of £500 million to the Scottish Budget. Yesterday, however, Mr Murphy said there was co-operation over dealing with the recession, which was top of the agenda."The value of the British-Irish Council is the opportunity to share experiences and comparisons of good practice between all the administrations. By talking and sharing we can try to ensure real support for families and businesses across these islands during this economic downturn and to ensure we are best placed for recovery once this downturn ends," he said.Rhodri Morgan, the Welsh First Minister, who chaired the session, said the regular get-together had to show it could contribute to lifting the economies of Britain and Ireland out of the downturn."It has proved its value during the good times, but now we move into much choppier waters and the British-Irish Council must prove itself all over again as a vehicle to assist us during tougher times," he said.He said they discussed the role voluntary groups could play in mitigating the worst of the recession and "holding society together" in a harsh economic climate.

EU raises stakes in biodiesel battle with US

By Joshua Chaffin in Brussels and Alan Beattie in Washington
Published: February 21 2009 01:43

The European Union is gearing up to slap duties on imported US biodiesel in the latest sign of rising trade tensions as world economies slump into recession.
The so-called “anti-dumping” and “countervailing” duties, levied against imports deemed to be priced unfairly low and receiving government subsidy, will be proposed by the European Commission at a meeting early next month.

The Commission’s preliminary findings suggest that the subsidies are pushing down prices by between 89-99 US cents per gallon and that US companies are underpricing by 10-82 cents a gallon, according to people involved in the case. Biodiesel is currently about $2 per gallon. Duties to offset these margins would initially be imposed for a four-month period before the Commission made a final ruling on whether the subsidies contravened WTO rules.
The Commission launched in investigation in June after a complaint was lodged by the European Biodiesel Board, a trade group. It declined to comment on the matter on Friday, beyond saying that its deadline to render a judgment was March 13.
But the US National Biodiesel Board, which is trying to get the US administration to launch a case against the EU at the WTO, said the only European biodiesel companies suffering were those that had made bad business decisions.
“The European biodiesel industry is not being hurt by US competition,” said Manning Feraci, the board’s vice-president for federal affairs. “There are European companies doing quite well, and the data on record in front of the Commission bear that out. We hope the true facts will be reflected in the final determination in this case.”
The complaint centres on a US law that grants domestic producers a $1 per gallon tax credit. European producers claim that results in a $250 per tonne cost advantage for US biodiesel – an advantage that was further increased last year by the weak dollar.
They have also complained about the so-called “splash-and-dash” trade – producers from Malaysia and elsewhere claiming the credit by adding a minimal amount of US biodiesel on the way to Europe.
US biodiesel exports to Europe have surged to more than 1m tonnes over the past year, up from just 50,000 tonnes in 2006. They account for about €600m ($770m) of the €5bn European market.
The US biodiesel industry says that small European producers far from ports are suffering because of high costs and inefficiencies, while some larger companies are thriving.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Rich nations failing to meet climate aid pledges

World's richest countries have pledged nearly $18bn to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, but less than $1bn has been disbursedGraphic: Missing climate funds
John Vidal, environment editor, Friday 20 February 2009 15.56 GMT

Britain has pledged £75m to help Bangladesh adapt to climate change.

Developing countries have received less than 10% of the money promised by rich countries to help them adapt to global warming, an analysis by the Guardian has found.
The failure is fostering deep distrust between rich and poor nations and is seriously undermining key negotiations on a global climate deal.
The world's richest countries have together pledged nearly $18bn (£12.5bn) in the last seven years, but despite world leaders' rhetoric that the finance is vital, less than $0.9bn has been disbursed and long delays are plaguing many funds.
The lack of action is causing growing concern among diplomats and UN climate talks negotiators who have warned that a global agreement on climate change to succeed the Kyoto treaty is at risk if rich countries do not make the money available.
"It's a scandal. The amount the developed countries have provided is peanuts. It is poisoning the UN negotiations. What [the rich countries] offer to the poorest is derisory, the equivalent of one banker's bonus. It's an insult to people who are already experiencing increasingextreme events," said Bernarditas Muller of the Phillippines, the chief negotiator for the G77 and China group of developing countries.
The analysis has found that the poorest countries have received the least help from the rich. The UN's Least developed countries fund has disbursed only $47m in seven years. The analysis, based on data collected by the independent Overseas Development Institute in London and confirmed by the UN, has also found:
• Britain has pledged nearly $1.5bn but has so far deposited under $0.3bn
• Africa, the poorest continent, has received less than 12% of all the climate fund money spent in the last four years
• It can take poor countries more than three years to access money
• Most of the money promised for climate change comes out of official aid budgets, leaving less for health, education and poverty action
According to the UN, $50-70bn a year needs to be invested immediately to help the poor countries adapt to extreme floods, droughts and heatwaves, with much more needed later. "I recognise the frustration. Contributions to funds have been disappointingly low and the least developed countries have received very little. Without significant finance you will not get developing country engagement [in negotiations]. Funding is key to unlocking an outcome for the talks," said Yvo de Boer, head of UN Framework Convention on Climate change (UNFCC), which oversees the talks.
Rich countries have accepted their moral responsibility for global warming, and are legally obliged by the Kyoto protocol to provide finance to poor countries to tackle climate change - but there is no enforcement or targets. "The situation is becoming very serious. The sums are ridiculously small and whole system has broken down. The financial commitments are weak and there is a great gap between the promises and the reality. It is very risky for the UN negotiations and for mankind," said the Juan Lozano Ramirez, the Colombian environment minister.
So far 12 rich countries, led by the UK, Germany, Japan and the US, have pledged $6.1bn to two climate investment funds administered by the World Bank. But no money has been deposited in them and any money available will be in the form of loans, not grants, with stringent conditions on how the money is spent. A pilot project for eight countries has been announced but no money is likely to be disbursed for nearly a year.
The bank has set up four other climate funds but no money has been deposited in them. In the current economic crisis, analysts believe rich countries are likely to use delaying tactics and it could be several years before deposits are made. Poor countries do not want the World bank to administer money pledged for them, as they perceive it to be run in the interests of rich nations.
The second major source of funds is the UN, which through its financial arm - the Global Environment Facility (GEF) - distributes nearly $250m a year to poor countries for climate change projects. Nearly one-third of the $760m distributed in the last three years, has gone to China, India and Brazil. Less than $100m of this has gone to projects in the world's 49 poorest countries.
Criticism centres on the GEF-administered Least-Developed Countries Fund (LCDF). In seven years, rich countries have deposited $172m for this but only $47m has been disbursed, mostly in very small grants. A seperate climate adaptation fund for the poorest countries set up in 2002 has only financed 22 projects, together worth $50m.
Bonizella Biagini, a spokesman for the GEF said: "The LCDF was set up in 2001 but the UNFCCC only decided how to operationalise it in 2005. We expect at least 12 projects to be endorsed in 2009, on top of the three that have already reached that stage. To implement a project requires time to sharpen the problem statement, negotiate partnerships and prepare on the ground implementation. Clearly there is insufficient money to cover the needs for adaptation in the least developed countries."
A third source of climate funds are "bilateral agreements", between individual countries. Japan has pledged more than $10bn of official aid over five years but has so far deposited nothing. Spain has promised $528m but released only $85m. Norway, Germany, Australia and others have also pledged but released very little.
A spokesman for CSRL, a coalition of 70 Bangladeshi environment groups, expressed concerns on hard it is to release the funds: "Climate change financing is inadequate and complex. Of 15 projects that Bangladesh designed in 2005, only one has been approved by the GEF but this will only receive a US$3.1m. A co-financer will have to be found to finance the rest."
Alison Doig, a climate spokesperson for Christian Aid, said: "The money available for the poor is a fraction of the annual cost of climate change already happening in developing countries and less than 1% of the $2.8 trillion committed by rich countries to rescuing banks and stimulating economic growth. Diverting funds from development assistance to fight climate change means that the poor suffer twice. The funds are too small and not directed to the most vulnerable. So the poor are left to suffer, and there is less in the pot for poverty reduction actions."
Britain has pledged more than any other country except Japan. It has promised £800m in loans for the World Bank's environmental transformation fund, £50m to protect the Congo basin forests and £75m to help Bangladesh adapt. But no payments are believed to have have reached recipients yet. In addition it has paid $250m for climate change funds for 2006-10.
A spokesman for the UK Department for International Development said: "It is the world's poorest who suffer most and we expect the UK's first contribution to global climate change funds to take place imminently.Progress to date has been ahead of plan - at the end of January, Mexico, Egypt and Turkey were given the green light to apply for funding for clean technology projects and a further eight developing countries were offered funding for adaptation."
"People are feeling the effects of climate change now. We are very willing to do more, but it needs the rich to show more willing", said Muller.

Mandelson vows to take on the doomsters

Mark Milner, Friday 20 February 2009 16.33 GMT

Business secretary Lord Mandelson vowed to keep fighting the economic "doomsters", as he explained his vision to make UK a world leader in the low-carbon economy today.
At the end of a week in which he hit the headlines with a remarkable attack on the chief executive of Starbucks, Mandelson reiterated that the British economy was not spiralling downwards.
"There has been a lot of talking Britain down lately, and not only from coffee-shop owners. I understand the severity of our economic circumstances as well as anyone, believe me," Mandelson told business leaders in north-west England.
"But as of today, I'm going to take on the doomsters and only talk Britain up. I do not underestimate the economic difficulties we face in this country. But the UK's open and dynamic economy is a huge asset. We have some of the best-growing small firms in the world and some of the smartest and most skilled workers. Our regulatory environment is efficient and business friendly."
Speaking to the Guardian ahead of the speech, a combative Mandelson outlined plans to make Britain a competitive player in the global low-carbon economy.
It was vital to identify the technologies that would drive future business growth and have the research and development capabilities to give British industry a competitive advantage, he said. "When I talk about a new industrial activism, I mean aligning government policies that have an impact on business, creating a stable framework of policy within which the private sector can take commercial decisions."
That did not mean creating "some Soviet-style national plan" that would replace decisions by companies with those of ministers, and government picking winners and losers, he insisted. "The government can't stand back, it has an essential role to play."
Mandelson said the development of Britain's industrial base was even more important in the light of what had happened in the financial services sector.
"The banks will recover and restore their international standing and the City of London will reclaim its international role but equally we have to rebalance the economy and diversify.
"Britain is the sixth biggest manufacturing economy. We have to maintain our position in international markets ... identifying new technology drivers and emerging markets that will give us a strong industrial future."
The government's role was to provide a stable framework – "It's not about replacing the market or substituting for the private sector," he said.
The government will hold a summit next month where it will explain how the UK can move to a low-carbon future.
Mandelson warned that just creating a market for low-carbon products and services is not enough. The UK must also ensure it has the capacity to supply that demand, with a domestic supply base that could then win business in international markets.
He said Britain would face increasing competition from emerging economies, but could also thrive in that larger global economy. "We have to prepare for that, we have to prepare more actively."
Responding to concerns about the level of public borrowing, Mandelson said Britain was starting from a relatively low base compared to the US or other European countries of a similar size to the UK.
"The borrowing does not worry me … as long as we have made proper provision for what we are spending; as long as we have medium-term plans in place to rebalance public finances and reduce this borrowing over time."

Economy and environment on agenda as Obama visits Canada

By Sheryl Gay Stolberg
Published: February 20, 2009

OTTAWA: President Barack Obama charted a delicate course with Canada on Thursday, using the first foreign trip of his presidency to ease tensions over trade policy, climate change and the war in Afghanistan — all the while basking in his celebrity status in a nation where his approval ratings are high.
The quick day trip marked a striking shift in United States-Canada relations from those under President George W. Bush. If Canadians were no fans of Bush, their conservative leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, found in him a kindred philosophical spirit.
Obama, on the other hand, is so popular here that he used a news conference on Thursday to thank Canadian volunteers who crossed the border to help his campaign. At the same time, he sought to soothe a skeptical Harper on policy matters like whether to reopen the North American Free Trade Agreement — Obama suggested doing so as a candidate but has since recalibrated his stance — as well as a "Buy America" provision in the $787 billion economic recovery package he just signed into law.
"I provided Prime Minister Harper an assurance that I want to grow trade, not contract it," Obama said during the brief, four-question news conference with Harper in the grand Gothic-style center block of the Canadian Parliament. "And I don't think that there was anything in the recovery package that was adverse to that goal."
The prime minister responded by giving the president a bit of a lecture, remarking that Canada's stimulus package "actually removed duties on some imported goods."

"If we pursue stimulus packages the goal of which is only to benefit ourselves, or to benefit ourselves at the expense of others, we will deepen the world recession, not solve it," Harper said.
The exchange was an awkward moment in a visit that was intended by both leaders to emphasize their countries' friendship and longstanding bonds. After slipping up by nearly referring to Ottawa as Iowa, Obama went on to say that he had a Canadian brother-in-law and that two of his top aides were Canadian.
Harper, for his part, responded to a question about border security by saying that "threats to the United States are threats to Canada." It was a powerful sound bite that appeared to be the final word of the news conference, until Obama jumped in to get one last word of his own, saying, "We have no doubt about Canada's commitment to security in the United States."
The leaders announced what they called "a clean energy dialogue" to work out their differences on environmental issues, among the thorniest between the United States and Canada, and engage in joint research on technology to reduce carbon emissions.
The United States is the biggest importer of Canadian oil, and Harper has been trying to win an agreement to exempt Canada's vast tracts of oil sands, which may contain up to 1.73 billion barrels of recoverable oil bound into sand and clay, from any new American environmental regulations. Obama is under intense pressure from environmentalists to resist that effort.
"We're not going to solve these problems overnight," the president said.
His statements were just ambiguous enough to satisfy both American environmentalists and the Canadian oil industry. Dave Collyer, the president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, called the announcement "an important framework that strikes the right balance and sets a pragmatic approach." Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, the director of the Canada program at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, called the dialogue "a logical first step," adding, "What we heard him say is that addressing global warming is a top priority."
Regarding Afghanistan, Obama said he "did not press the prime minister on any additional commitments" of troops, despite his own decision this week to increase the American presence there by 17,000. In his first public comments on the troop increase, Obama said he had ordered it "because I felt it was necessary to stabilize the situation there in advance of the elections coming up."
If Obama is not entirely simpatico with Harper, he may have more in common with Canada's opposition leader, Michael Ignatieff of the Liberal Party. Ignatieff is an author (like Obama) and a former director of a human rights center at Harvard, where he worked alongside Samantha Power, who advised Obama on foreign policy during his campaign. The two had a brief meeting at the airport on Obama's way out of town.
By taking his first foreign trip to Canada, Obama is following in a tradition for United States presidents, including Ronald Reagan, who made Canada his first visit and, four years later, charmed some Canadians and horrified others by singing "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" on St. Patrick's Day with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
Obama, by contrast, did not have to sing to attract attention; from the moment he stepped off Air Force One and into the snowy Ottawa landscape on Thursday, he commanded nonstop television coverage. Thousands of people stood outside the Parliament buildings just to catch a glimpse of him; he obliged with a quick wave.
Indeed, if there was any complaint about Obama's visit, it was that he had planned no public appearance with average Canadians. The White House fixed that at the end of the day, however, as Obama made a surprise stop at the ByWard Market, a renovated farmers' market in an historical stretch of Ottawa. He bought a key ring with Canadian dollars, then tried to pay for two maple leaf cookies, but his money was refused. And at a kiosk outside the market, he picked up a Beaver Tail, the fried, flattened doughnut that served as the prototype for the Obama Tail, which a local bakery had named after him.
He politely avoided eating the cholesterol-laden confection, promising to do so once he got back to the White House.
Ian Austen contributed reporting from Ottawa, and David Stout from Washington. .