17 de marzo de 1999

The Unfair Distribution Of Today’s Oil Bonanza

Here we are, worried about the fall in oil prices while our country goes hungry and observing how in other countries around the globe, the price of gasoline at the pump is higher than ever. For some strange reason, we have not wanted to see what is really happening. It is not that oil has lost it’s value, it is simply that we are receiving less for it.

If, for example, a new automobile that has been sold recently at US$ 30,000 now goes for a cool US$ 100,000, we would probably have to conclude that the market for this specific vehicle is booming. If the producer of the automobile only receives US$ 10,000 from the sale, his preoccupation would not be the market, but rather who is walking away with the difference. Why can’t we reason in the same way when it comes to our oil?

For example, it the cost of gasoline were 20 units and you add 5 units to cover distribution and another 5 units to cover value added and other taxes (i.e. taxes of 20%), the final cost to the consumer would theoretically be 30 units. Instead, in countries in Europe and elsewhere, the cost today is 10 units, the distribution chain adds the same 5 units, but the taxman tags on a whopping 85 units. The final price to the consumer turns into 100 units.

Of the total 85 units that go to the taxman, 80 are definitely excessive and basically represent a commercial duty or tariff of 800%. I ask myself, what other product can survive with an import duty of 800%? What would the producer of the automobile described in the example above say if he would be forced to reduce his income from US$ 20,000 per unit to US$ 10,000 and simultaneously be forced to increase the final sales price from US$ 30,000 to US$ 100,000 thereby causing his market to shrink? All this because the taxman now wants to obtain US$ 85,000 per unit instead of US$ 5,000.

OPEC and the rest of the oil producing nations do not protest loud enough and it pains me to think that during the next meeting of OPEC members, discussion will center around the further reduction of production as the only option to firm up the price of oil.

As I see it, the world has declared war on the oil producing nations; the latter have lost an immense amount of battles and they are still unaware. We either react or there is no salvation. Since oil is non-renewable, the production and sale of every barrel is like selling an asset, not a simple manufactured product. It is our responsibility to insure that we maximize the income we receive for it.

The way it looks today, the situation will only get worse. One of the European nations has made public its plan to impose annual increases equivalent to inflation plus 6% on the sale of gasoline as part of its environmentally fiscal policy. This means that the price of gasoline will double by the year 2007 while the producers will not receive one penny more. We, however, continue to naively hope for a recovery of the market for oil.

The globalization or free markets do not mean we must lower our guard. On the contrary, it means our country must be even more wary than ever in order to defend its interests. As an example of this, it is enough to see how the United States are threatening to impose duties of 100% on products imported from EC countries in defense of the production of bananas, a crop that isn’t even grown by them.

It is high time we begin to defend ourselves. I suggest we analyze the possibility of putting together a concerted effort against those countries that put into effect exorbitant duties on oil disguised as a tax on gasoline. The situation is so serious that I would not hesitate to impose duties of 799% on products from countries that tax gasoline at similar levels. I would obviously offer to reduce them to 0% as a reasonable quid pro quo.

Additionally, we cannot continue to accept the continuing pressure from the International Monetary Fund. The IMF pushes economic development based on free markets and low duties. At the same time it does not only praise, but actually makes the increase of taxes on gasoline a must in order to qualify for its assistance. We should at least study the possibility of calling on the World Trade Organization to intervene in order to rectify what is clearly a protectionist policy backed by the IMF.

I have just finished reading a long essay in the prestigious magazine The Economist titled Cheap Oil. The author brings up the possibility that oil could fall to US$ 5 per barrel. While they play games with us, indicating that this fall in prices will not be felt by the final consumer due to taxes in excess of 80%, there is no mention what so ever about the problem of the unjust distribution of oil income. As a citizen of an oil producing nation, I somehow feel I am being taken for a ride and treated like a dunce.

Today’s worldwide production of oil is about 73 million barrels. It is estimated that the reduction of 2 million barrels could stop the prices from falling further. I ask OPEC and other oil producing countries: What would the effect on demand be if today’s duties of 800% are reduced to 100% (which is still exorbitant), thereby provoking a fall of 70% in the price of gasoline at the pump in Europe and in many other countries?          

Daily Journal, Caracas, March 17, 1999