3 de diciembre de 1999

The world's real petro-pirates

When, as a citizen of an oil producing country, Venezuela, I see oil being valued by the market at US$ 150, and we only receive about US$ 20, I believe that I have the right to feel a bit let down by all those who promised us a rose garden if we duly signed up on all the international commercial agreements peddled by GATT; and lately by the World Trade Organization WTO. What do I mean?

From one barrel of oil, one can approximately and simultaneously obtain 84 liters of gasoline, 12 of jet fuel, 36 of gas oil, 16 of lubricants and 12 of heavy residues. In Britain today, educated consumers are paying (voluntarily and out of their own pockets) US$ 1.38 per liter of gasoline (sorry, petrol) using the traditional way of establishing a product's value. Even if we just consider the gasoline, we obtain a value of about US$ 116 per barrel of oil and then by adding the rest of the products, we should be close to US$ 150 since refining and distribution costs are fairly small.

I am well aware that the value US$ 150 is achieved by the taxman forcing himself in at the point of sale of gasoline, as an extremely expensive middleman, keeping 85% of the gross. But, was this not exactly the things that world governments agreed not to do, in order to foster free trade and growth ... and that which we believed when we signed up on all those reductions of protectionist duties, accepting to lend the developed world a hand, collecting, their pretensions of royalties for intellectual property rights?

Today's result is therefore that, when an oil producing country is selling it's non-renewable and scarce resource to the world, it's only getting a fraction of the real value.

The hurt and pain I feel at seeing so much poverty in my country, that could be alleviated by just a little bit more of justice by the developed consumer countries themselves, is made worse by adding salt to the wound in many ways.

Their bankers sold us on the idea, in the mid-seventies, that oil was going to increase in value, and therefore that we could calmly take on the responsibility for servicing a huge country debt ... they never told us that all the increase in the value of oil, which has actually occurred since then, was going to be confiscated by their taxmen.

We producers were, and still are, the remaining scapegoat for all inflationary pressures derived from any price increase in gasoline and other derivatives ... even when these were just the result of higher taxes.

We oil producers were, and still are, branded as the most wanted criminal in environmental issues when, in fact, we are the ones paying 100% of the cost of all the protection plans that through their taxes reduce world demand for oil.

Today we hear of even higher future oil taxes when Germany (for example) announces a plan of annual increases as a way to reduce their workers' social security payments and discriminate against us by not taxing coal and other energy sources.

For what it's worth, I would like to remind the developed world in good conscience that, when you're giving generous assistance to the under-developed world, much of it is with money properly belonging to the oil producing nations.

When I see the suffering of my more destitute fellow countrymen I blame myself, I blame all those lousy governments we have had ... but I also rightly blame the taxmen in the consumer countries, who are the true petropirates of the world.

In the Daily Journal, Caracas, December 3, 1999