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China expands S. America energy footprint

Oct. 23, 2012 at 4:30 PM   |   Comments

RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- China is expanding its energy footprint in Latin America in a two-pronged strategy to secure its economy's fuel needs and create a niche for future trade in the southern region.

China's latest foray into equity investment is a 10 percent share of offshore Brazilian oil and gas reserves awaiting development as part of a multibillion-dollar program.

Brazil has been choosing equity partners with an eye on deeper collaboration that opens business opportunities for its own commodities and manufactures and China offers fits the bill perfectly -- for now.

Despite analysts' warnings that China's economic slowdown may be quicker than originally estimated and, despite an outcry in the United States and elsewhere over Chinese investments, South America has given Chinese cash and enterprise an open-ended welcome.

The latest breakthrough for China came when Brazil's National Petroleum Agency ANP gave the green light for China's state-run conglomerate Sinochem purchasing a 10 percent stake in five offshore blocks.

Talks on the equity sale gained momentum last year and in January Sinochem purchased the stake from the local unit of French oil and natural-gas company Perenco.

ANP approved the deal at a board meeting this month. Details of the transaction are yet to become known but it follows several Chinese oil and gas acquisitions in Brazil, Argentina and ongoing talks on several other ventures.

Sinochem previously acquired a 40 percent stake in Norwegian company Statoil's Peregrino offshore field in Brazil for $3.07 billion while China's Sinopec paid $5.19 billion for a 30 percent stake in the Brazilian unit of Portugal's Galp Energia.

Sinopec also paid $7 billion for a 40 percent share of the Brazilian unit of Spanish oil company Repsol, which lost its majority ownership of YPF in neighboring Argentina in a state takeover. The Argentine nationalization raised fears, since dispelled, that foreign investors might be discouraged from buying equity in Latin America.

In the latest deal, Sinochem acquired a 10 percent working stake in five blocks of the offshore Espirito Santos Basin in return for funding exploration-commitment wells.

Perenco retains a 40 percent operator stake in the blocks, with partner OGX Petroleo e Participacoes holding the remaining 50 percent.

Sinochem Corp., founded in 1950, is China's largest trading company, dealing in petrochemicals distribution, rubber, plastics, and agrochemicals.

Formerly owned directly by the Chinese government, Sinochem converted to a joint-stock company in 2009, a process China is keen to promote to blunt criticism that its international trading companies have too much government interference.

China became the third-largest investor in Latin America in 2010, behind the United States and the Netherlands, with investment deals in oil and gas, minerals and construction across the region.

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