Algeria

COVID-19, EU move to permit some international travel in addition to intra-EU travel, effects on tourism

Many countries have imposed travel restrictions on visitors from other countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Air Transport Association (“IATA”) reports that there are 163 countries that have some travel restrictions and that 96 countries impose quarantine requirements. See IATA, COVID-19 Government Public Health Mitigation Measures, https://www.iata.org/en/programs/covid-19-resources-guidelines/covid-gov-mitigation/.

Travel and tourism is one of the most seriously harmed economic sectors from the global COVID-19 pandemic for many countries. The UN World Tourism Organization has created “the first global dashboard for tourism insights”. https://www.unwto.org/unwto-tourism-dashboard. The dashboard indicates that COVID-19 will result in the reduction of some 850 million to 1.1 billion tourists with a loss of US$ 910 billion to US $ 1.2 trillion in revenues from tourists with the potential loss of as many as 100-120 million jobs in the sector. These are obviously staggering figures for a sector that has contributed to global economic growth over recent decades. The dashboard has ten slides which shows data for tourism through April 2020 with some projected figures for full year 2020 under various assumptions. Data are presented both globally and for some slides by regions and in a few within regions by country. Thus, in slide 2, global tourism grew 2% in January 2020, declined 12% in February, declined 55% in March and declined 97% in April for a January-April total decline of 43.8%. By region, Europe declined 44%, Asia and the Pacific declined 51%, the Americas declined 36%, Africa declined 35%, and the Middle East declined 40%. While data for May and June are not yet available and may be less severe in terms of contraction than April, the decline in global tourism through June will likely exceed 50% and possibly be even more severe. For data through April 2020 see the link, https://www.unwto.org/international-tourism-and-covid-19.

In prior posts, I have provided background on the sector and the likely toll from the COVID-19 pandemic. See April 30, 2020, The collapse of tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/04/30/the-collapse-of-tourism-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/; May 3, 2020, Update on the collapse of travel and tourism in response to COVID-19, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/05/03/update-on-the-collapse-of-travel-and-tourism-in-response-to-covid-19/.

As many countries in parts of Asia, Oceania, Europe and a few other countries have seen significant declines following first wave peaks of COVID-19 cases, restrictions within countries and increasingly on international travel are starting to be relaxed.

The European Union is a large tourist destination and on June 30 announced recommendations for member states to consider in opening up for tourists from both other EU countries and for travelers from outside of the area for nonessential travel. Specifically, the Council of the European Union adopted Council Recommendations on the temporary restriction on non-essential travel into the EU and the possible lifting of such restriction on 30 June 2020. See https://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-9208-2020-INIT/en/pdf. Intra EU travel, travel from Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and certain other countries is not part of the third country nonessential travel affected by the recommendations (to the extent adopted by EU members).

The EU Council selected third countries whom the Council recommended have access based on criteria which “relate to the epidemiological situation and containment measures, including physical distancing, as well as economic and social considerations, and are applied cumulatively.” Page 6. The Council lists three critieria: (1) whether the number of new cases over the last 14 days per 100,000 inhabitants is close to or below the EU average (15 June 2020); (2) whether the trend of new cases over the prior 14 day period is stable or decreasing; and (3) considering “the overall response to COVID-19 taking into account available information aspects such as testing, surveillance, contact tracing, containment, treatment and reporting as well as the reliability of available information and data sources and, if needed, the total average score across all dimensions for International Health Regulations (IHR).” Page 6.

Based on these criteria, the EU Council recommends that 15 countries (with China being subject to confirmation of reciprocity by China to EU travelers) “whose residents should not be affected by temporary external borders restriction on non-essential travel into the EU” (Annex I, page 9): Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, Uruguay and China. The Council may review every two weeks whether the list should be modified.

Annex II to the Council recommendations provides an identification of travelers with essential functions for whom the restrictions should not apply. These include healthcare professionals, health researchers, and elderly care professionals, frontier workers, seasonal workers in agriculture, transport personnel, diplomatic personnel, passengers in transit, passengers traveling for “imperative family reasons,” seafarers, third-country nationals traveling for the purpose of study and a few others. Annex II, page 10.

The EU Council Recommendations are embedded below as is a Council press release on the recommendations.

ST_9208_2020_INIT_EN

Council-agrees-to-start-lifting-travel-restrictions-for-residents-of-some-third-countries-Consilium

Obviously many countries are not included on the list of third countries where loosening of restrictions on travel is recommended. The United States, Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa are just a few for whom nonessential travel restrictions are not recommended to be lifted. For most of these countries, either the number of new cases has not peaked or has not receded significantly.

For the EU, getting agreement among its members to lift travel restrictions for other EU countries and to start lifting restrictions for travelers from thrid countries has been important as the summer holiday season of July-August arrives. Data from EU tourism statistics showed 710 million international visitors in 2018 (when there were 28 EU members, including the UK). 81% or 575 million visitors were intra-EU, that is traveling from one EU country to another. Thus, for the EU, the biggest return of tourism business involves reopening to travelers from other EU countries. By contrast, visitors from third countries in total were some 19% of the total or 135 million visitors. The US accounted for 11.6% of third country visitors in 2017, some 15.7 million in number. While an important source of third country tourists, The U.S. was just a little over 2.2 percent of total EU global visitors. See http://www.condorferries.co.uk (tourism in Europe statistics). Thus, for tourism, the EU’s reopening recommendations will not return travel and tourism to pre-COVID-19 levels. But the partial reopening could result in a significant rebound in its tourism sector which will be good news for EU businesses involved in the travel and tourism space. Time will tell just how much of a rebound actually occurs.

For other nations, the more countries who get COVID-19 under control and are thus able to open international travel and tourism responsibly, the greater the likely rebound in global travel and tourism will be. However, because many businesses in the travel and tourism space in any country are small businesses, the risk for many countries (whether in the EU or elsewhere) is that the rebound whenever it occurs will happen with a much smaller business base to serve customers. While governments can provide targeted assistance through legislative initiatives, operating conditions for many such businesses post opening do not permit profitable operation where social distancing and other important steps remain critical to safe functioning. So unlike other global crises in the past, there may be large and permanent job losses in the travel and tourism sector flowing from COVID-19.

Oil and gas sector suffers declining demand, collapsing prices, expanded state involvement — skewed economic results damage much of the global economy

The United States and many other countries view the World Trade Organization as the forum for global trade rules that support market economies. One of the challenges for the WTO going forward is what to do with the important Members whose economic systems are not anchored in market economic principles. While China is the most frequently mentioned WTO Member whose economic system is causing massive disruptions for market economies, there are other countries with important sectors that are state-owned, controlled and directed. The United States, European Union and Japan have been working on proposals for modifications of WTO rules to address distortions flowing from massive industrial subsidies and state controlled sectors that do not operate on market principles.

While WTO reform is not likely to see serious engagement by WTO Members before the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control, the sharp contraction of economic activity in many countries is highlighting the importance for WTO Members actually addressing the role of the state in industry and rule changes needed to avoid the massive distortions that state involvement too often created.

Oil and Gas as an Example

Few industrial sectors have as much state ownership and control as the oil and gas sector. While there are countries with privately owned producers, much of the world operates with producers that are state owned or state controlled. Since the 1960s, a number of countries have engaged in cartel-like activity to collectively address production levels to achieve desired price levels. While many of these countries are part of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (“OPEC”), OPEC meets with other countries as well in an effort to achieve production and pricing levels. Current OPEC members include Algeria, Angola, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.

The activity has resulted in artificial pricing levels in export markets as compared to prices in home markets of OPEC members and periodic price shocks based on collective action. Large price increases in the 1970s led to high levels of inflation and rapid changes to manufacturing operations in some countries.

  1. Economic contraction as countries struggle to limit spread of the coronavirus

There has been a sharp contraction in demand for petroleum products in 2020 as countries have shut down movement of people in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19. Air travel has been decimated in many parts of the world and there are significant reductions in automobile travel. Manufacturing has also seen significant reductions. The contractions have resulted not only in national reductions in use of petroleum products but also international reductions both directly (reduced air traffic and ship traffic) and because of disruptions to supply chains which have reduced downstream production.

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission released a staff research report on April 21, 2020 entitled “Cascading Economic Impacts of the COVID-19 Outbreak in China” which reviews information on the wide range of economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic as felt in the U.S. https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-04/Cascading_Economic_Impacts_of_the_Novel_Coronavirus_April_21_2020.pdf. The report includes a section entitled “Turmoil in Energy Markets” which states,

“The standstill in Chinese production and halt in flows of goods and people has drastically depressed Chinese demand for energy products such as crude oil and liquified natural gas (LNG), adding pressure to an oil supply glut that had materialized at the end of 2019.99 In December of 2019, Institute of International Finance economist Garbis Iradian had forecasted a supply glut, pointing to high output from Brazil, Canada, and the United States.100 The COVID-19 outbreak exacerbated this challenging outlook. As the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) reported in April 2020: ‘The largest ever monthly decline in petroleum demand in China occurred in February 2020.’101 Chinese oil demand ‘shrank by a massive 3.2 million barrels per day’ over the prior year.102 Research by OPEC forecasted China’s 2020 demand for oil will decrease by 0.83 million barrels per day over 2019.103 As the largest oil importer,104 Chinese oil consumption has a significant impact on global demand. In 2019, China accounted for 14 percent of global oil demand and more than 80 percent of growth in oil demand.105 Following the outbreak in China, the OPEC Joint Technical Committee held a meeting on February 8 to recommend new and continued oil production adjustments in light of “the negative impact on oil demand” due to depressed economic activity, “particularly in the transportation, tourism, and industry sectors, particularly in China.”106 In LNG markets, on February 10, Caixin reported Chinese state-owned oil giant China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) requested a reduction of an unknown quantity in LNG shipments, invoking a “force majeure” clause due to COVID-19.107 S&P Global Platts, an energy and commodities analysis group, stated China’s LNG imports in January and February fell more than 6 percent over the same period in 2019.108

Prices have also dropped in this period. OPEC’s reference price index fell from $66.48 per barrel in December 2019 to $55.49 per barrel in February 2020, a drop of 19.8 percent.109 These price cuts are causing financially strapped* U.S. energy producers to cut back investment in oil and gas projects as profits erode. The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts that the current drop in oil prices will lead to lower U.S. crude oil production beginning in the third quarter of 2020.110″

The complete report is embedded below (footnotes 99-110 can be found on page 22 of the report).

USCC-staff-research-Cascading_Economic_Impacts_of_the_Novel_Coronavirus_April_21_2020

2. State-owned or controlled oil companies create further crisis

With a sharp contraction in oil demand, one would expect falling oil prices and reductions in global production over time. OPEC efforts to achieve reductions in production amongst themselves and Russia didn’t work out with Russia walking out of talks to reduce production to prevent further price declines. Russia and Saudi Arabia then engaged in a price war which resulted in further sharp price reductions in March and early April, large surpluses of oil in the market, with dwindling storage capacity for surplus production. See, e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_Russia%E2%80%93Saudi_Arabia_oil_price_war (and sources cited therein). Below is a graph of crude oil prices from 2015 through April 2020.

3. April Agreement to Reduce Production Beginning in May and June 2020

The United States, concerned with the collapse of oil prices and the effects on U.S. producers and oil/gas field companies, engaged in outreach to both Saudi Arabia and Russia to seek a solution. OPEC members, Russia and many others (including the United States) agreed to global production reductions of close to 10 million barrels/day beginning in May and carrying through June, with smaller reductions for later periods, in an effort to bring about balance between supply and demand. See, e.g., April 12, 2020, AP article, “OPEC, oil nations agree to nearly 10M barrel cut amid virus,” https://apnews.com/e9b73ec833e9a5ad304a69e3b9b86914. The U.S. Department of Energy has a webpage that reviews statements by members of Congress and others on the OPEC+ deal.

Because the agreement kicks in at the beginning of May, the continued production and reductions in available storage for oil resulted in further declines in oil prices, with prices on April 20 going negative for the first time in history. Prices have recovered somewhat in the last several days. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/24/oil-prices-could-remain-under-pressure-according-to-satellite-imagery-analysis.html; https://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/OPECs-No3-Already-Started-Cutting-Oil-Supply.html.

WTO Challenges

Joint action during the global COVID-19 pandemic may be understandable and in keeping with the resort to extraordinary measures by governments during the crisis to preserve health and economies. Nonetheless, the extraordinary distortions that flow to global commerce from joint government activity limiting production of oil and gas products or establishing minimum prices for export have been ignored within the GATT and now the WTO for decades. This is unfortunate as the distortions affect both competing producers of the products in question in other countries and also downstream users and consumers more broadly. The overall distortions over time are certainly in the trillions of dollars.

GATT Art. XX(g) permits governments to enforce measures “relating to the conservation of exhaustible natural resources if such measures are made effective in conjunction with restrictions on domestic production or consumption.” While there have been some cases where Art. XX(g) has been examined, actions by OPEC or OPEC+ countries to limit production (and hence exports) have never been challenged.

While there are national antitrust laws in many countries, such laws (such as those in the United States) don’t make government interference in the economy or government restrictions on export actionable despite the harm to consumers and to downstream manufacturers.

In a consensus based system like the WTO, the likelihood of obtaining improved rules on state-owned or state-invested companies or to restrict governments’ ability to unilaterally or jointly restrict production and exports seems implausible. This is especially true on oil and gas with Saudi Arabia and Russia as WTO Members. The US-EU-Japan initiative hasn’t yet fleshed out possible rule changes for state entities, so one may see some efforts in the coming years that could be useful if accepted by the full membership. But if there is to be meaningful WTO reform, agreeing on rules for the actions of governments that affect production and trade in goods and services is clearly of great importance. Without such rules, the WTO will not actually support market economies in critical ways.

Modifying antitrust laws is the other option, but one which legislators have been unwilling to address over the last fifty years. It is not clear that there are current champions of such modifications in the United States or in other major countries.

Conclusion

There are many sectors of economies that are being seriously adversely affected by efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. Governments are taking extraordinary actions to try to prevent their economies from collapsing under the strains of social distancing.

The oil and gas sector is one where there has been significant negative volume and price effects. Unfortunately the extent of the negative volume and price effects is driven in large part by the actions of governments who are preventing the global market for these products from functioning correctly, just as government actions have interfered in the functioning of these markets for the last fifty-sixty years.

The recent agreement to slash global production by nearly 10 million barrels per day was needed in light of the extensive government interference that has characterized the market and the actions by Russia and Saudi Arabia in March and early April.

More importantly, the long-term government involvement and interference with the functioning of the sector should cause trade negotiators and legislators to be looking at how to reform the WTO and/or modify national laws to prevent government ownership, control or cartel-like actions from distorting trade flows and economies. The need is pressing, but don’t hold your breath for action in the coming years.