Energy investment fuels Saudi relations with Pakistan, India and China

audi Arabia uses oil and broader energy diplomacy to deepen the influence and impact of its foreign policy. One key pillar of Riyadh’s strategy is to use investment in other countries’ infrastructure to take larger shares in foreign markets and to decrease market share for rival nations.

Energy diplomacy is the interaction between two or more countries interconnected by various power-production or consumption sectors, including one or more components of trade, services, investment, technology and energy transmission. 

This kind of diplomacy deepens informal links, improves relations between countries and global engagement, and, in addition to economic and technological dimensions, can also address political and security dimensions.

Iran-Saudi competition 

Iran and Saudi Arabia, two regional rival powers in the Middle East with huge oil and gas reserves, compete on a variety of issues; however, the main confrontation between Tehran and Riyadh is on one matter: each wants to be the superior political actor in the Middle East. 

Tehran and Riyadh have faced off in geopolitical confrontations in the region for decades, including the recent wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and over the presence of IS in the Middle East. The competing strategies have centred on weakening their rivals’ standing and stabilise their own position, investing in creating domestic and foreign political pressure on the rival country.

US sanctions

Iran’s largest export destination is primarily China, followed by the European Union, India and Turkey. In 2017, China imported an average of 700,000 barrels per day from Iran. China’s growing economy is dependent on oil imports – and focusing on energy sources is the primary objective of China’s National Energy Policy.

Between April and August 2018 India imported 658,000 barrels of oil per day from Iran


Before the US sanctions on Iran, Chinese companies were actively present in Tehran’s energy industry. Iran, meanwhile, had considerable involvement in China’s energy sector through providing reliable energy for rapid economic growth. As the partnership deepened, the Chinese firms strengthened their role as an influential actor in the Middle East energy market. 
India is Iran’s second-largest oil customer. Between April and August 2018 India imported 658,000 barrels of oil per day from Iran. India is also interested in getting more involved in Iran’s oil and gas exploitation and infrastructure projects.

Saudi investments

During a recent trip to Pakistan, which met with widespread praise from compliant Pakistani officials, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced Saudi Arabia’s willingness to “help” its economy. 

Saudi oil minister Khalid Faleh said he would invest $10 billion in oil refineries in the Gwadar Port on the Indian Ocean. Direct investment in Pakistan has declined by 17 percent in recent years, and the efforts of the Islamabad government to create interest among foreign investors in a direct presence in Pakistan have not had much effect. 

Foreign direct investment in Pakistan over the past seven months has fallen by $30 million compared with the same period last year. Pakistan’s economic situation gives Saudi Arabia an opportunity to influence Pakistani foreign policy and its relations with neighbours.

In 2014, Pakistan signed an agreement with Iran to import natural gas from the Islamic republic. But due to its financial problems, Pakistan is unable to construct a pipeline to import gas from Iran. India and Pakistan signed the TAPI project with the aim of importing natural gas from Turkmenistan. Saudi Arabia also showed interest in providing financial support for the TAPI project. 

All developments in the region show Riyadh is interested in playing a role in regional energy diplomacy and geopolitics.

Saudi Arabia has an active involvement in the Indian energy market and will use its investments to influence India’s foreign policy and reduce Iran’s role in the Indian energy market. In early 2018, Saudi Aramco held 50 percent of Indian refinery shares, with a value of $44 billion, and capacity to refine 60 million tons of crude oil a month. 

India is a major oil customers of both Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the two countries are working hard to get more from India’s energy market. Saudi Arabia has been planning a massive surge into south Asia, and has allocated cash from its $500 billion foreign investment fund to India. 

Aramco set up a new office in New Delhi to oversee its participation in the Indian energy market, and last year India invited Saudi Arabia to participate in the Strategic Reserves programme.

During MBS’ recent trip to New Delhi, his first official visit to India, it was announced Saudi Arabia would invest $100 billion in India over the next two years. Based on a $44 billion investment last year in the petrochemical sector, the $100 billion reported may not be far off reality. 

Could Saudi investments in Pakistan’s Gwadar port be a threat to Indian investment in the Chabahar port in the coming years?

China has major projects such as the one road belt and the sea silk route, which will increase the role of China in regional and global markets. The new Silk Road plan is designed to invest in the infrastructure of more than 60 countries and the development of two commercial routes, the Silk Road Belt and the Silk Road of the Sea, which were presented by China in 2013.

The construction of the oil pipeline from Gwadar to China will reduce the delivery time of oil from the current 40 days to just one week



By becoming a crucial point on the route, Gwadar will become an industrial hub for the region, easily accessible to Central Asia, Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa. 

Saudi Arabia also has geopolitical considerations in Gwadar. The construction of the oil pipeline from Gwadar to China will reduce the delivery time of oil from the current 40 days to just one week, and Saudi Arabia, like most other oil suppliers, is investing in oil and gas companies in the long term for oil refineries and petrochemicals.

When bin Salman visited China, the leaders of both countries emphasised the need to develop bilateral relations and signed no fewer than 35 economic cooperation agreements worth a total of $28 billion at a joint investment forum. 

Saudi Arabia’s Aramco, the world’s largest oil exporter, will sign a memorandum of understanding with China’s Norinko Corporation to build a refinery and petrochemical project in Panjin, northeast China. Aramco also plans to raise the minimum stock in Zhejiang’s petrochemicals. Zhejiang’s petrochemicals division is building a refinery and petrochemical complex in the eastern province of Zhejiang. 

These investments help Saudi Arabia regain its position as the world’s primary oil exporter to China. Saudi Arabia is also strengthening its market position by signing oil supply contracts with non-governmental Chinese refineries. Riyadh also wants to play an important role in China’s One Road One Belt project.

Saudi investment in the Pakistan, India and China energy sectors gives an opportunity to play a key role in these countries’ energy security. Riyadh will be able to increase oil exports to these countries, while an Iran under sanctions will be unable to play an important role. 

If the US doesn’t extend its waiver to major Iran oil buyers, it is likely that Iran’s biggest customers – mainly China and India – will look to Saudi Arabia.

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Iran and Saudi Arabia Compete for India’s Energy Market

India now has the highest oil and natural gas consumption in the world and will for the foreseeable future. With exorbitant and ever-increasing energy demands, India is under pressure to diversify its energy supply. Iran and Saudi Arabia are now in a race to meet India’s demand in the international oil and gas market.

 

India is the second largest Asian oil consumer after China. In 2017, India was buying 577,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil from Iran, accounting for 27 percent of Iran’s total crude oil exports. From January to October 2018, India imported 789,000 bpd of oil from Iran, an increase of 36 percent. Iranian officials have offered significant price discounts to India as a strategy to maintain Iran’s share of India’s oil market, and Iran has insured tankers which transport its oil.

 

Saudi Arabia is one of India’s largest oil suppliers, and the second largest supplier of crude oil and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). In 2016-17, India’s crude oil imports from Saudi Arabia amounted to 18.5 percent of its total imports or 39.5 million tons out of a total of 214 million. From January to October 2018, India imported 697,000 bpd of oil from Saudi Arabia.From Iran’s perspective, India’s investment in multiple sectors of its own domestic market, especially infrastructure and energy, equates to political insurance. India’s investment in Chabahar port is a case in point.

 

In February 2018, during a visit by Hassan Rouhani to New Delhi, India, Iran signed 15 mutual cooperation documents, the majority of which related to oil and gas fields cooperation. After this visit, it was announced that Iran had eliminated the cost of transporting oil to India for the rest of the fiscal year. The decision was made as a response to India reducing its oil imports from Iran between April 2017 and January 2018. The move marked a success for Iranian policy makers, and it was subsequently stated that India would increase its oil imports from Iran.

 

Saudi Investment in India’s Energy Sector

 

Saudi Arabia plays an active role in energy diplomacy in India. Investment in energy infrastructure is an effective way for Saudi Arabia to infiltrate and influence India’s foreign policy decision-making process. Aramco, the world’s largest oil producer, is looking to invest in foreign refineries to meet demand for oil and increase its share of global markets. This is a strategy that will allow Saudi Arabia to expand its share of Asian markets and essentially leave its rivals in the dust. Saudi Arabia is not only competing with Iran politically but aiming to gain an edge over even-more-productive Iraq to become India’s largest oil importer. Last year, Iraq was India’s largest oil importer.

 

In April 2018, Saudi Aramco and India’s Ratnagiri Refinery & Petrochemicals—a joint venture of Indian Oil Corp (IOC.NS), Hindustan Petroleum Corp (HPCL.NS) and Bharat Petroleum Corp (BPCL.NS)—signed a contract worth $44 billion to build a refinery in the state of Maharashtra in western India. The two sides are contributing 50 percent to this project. Saudi Aramco has said the refinery will have a production capacity of 1,200,000 bpd upon completion. Aramco also said the project would be one of the largest refineries of petrochemicals in the world. According to Saudi Energy Minister, Khalid Al-Falih, refining capacity of 60 million tons of crude oil is said to be Saudi Arabia’s only major investment in India. Aramco is also interested in investing in fuel and petrochemical sales as well as oil reserves in India.

 

Saudi Arabia does have the potential to act on this investment promise. Aramco has shipped three million barrels of crude from three refineries in India, and another Indian refinery is currently negotiating with Saudi officials to sign a contract for one million barrels of oil. Political tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, especially over the Yemen crisis, but also enflamed by the US’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and new sanctions against the Iranian energy sector, have meant that Saudi Arabia is more than capable of seizing the current momentum in its favor to decrease Iran’s role in regional energy markets, especially that of India.

 

Saudi Investment in TAPI Project

 

Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, and India have recently signed multi-billion-dollar investments in the TAPI gas pipeline project. Saudi Arabia has announced it will invest in the construction of a gas pipeline that will transfer Turkmen gas to Pakistan and India through Afghanistan.

 

With the participation of Saudi Arabia in the TAPI energy transfer project, Riyadh, on the one hand, could draw the US’s support for reducing Russian domination of Central Asian energy resources (through increasing export routes around Russia). On the other hand, with this increase in engagement in the Central Asian energy region, it may be possible for Riyadh to gain concessions in future energy talks, especially in the context of global oil policy, to control the global price of energy carriers.

Security concerns and financial resources pose the main obstacles to realizing the TAPI project, yet Saudi Arabia’s support for the project is merely another instrument to circumvent Iranian power and influence. Saudi Arabia is directly investing in India’s energy infrastructure, as well as offering political and economic support for transportation projects which allow access to the Indian market by side-stepping Iran.

 

For India, the American market is thus more attractive. With the US-imposed sanctions in place, Saudi Arabia is likely to become India’s largest oil supplier. At the same time, however, India will greatly increase its imports from Iraq. Even Nigeria has gained access, so insatiable for fuel is India’s current phase of development. Most oil producing countries have increased their exports to India across the board.

 

As expected, the U.S. has granted waivers to major buyers of Iranian oil in India and allowed them to continue imports beyond the U.S. sanctions deadline. It will not be easy for India to find an alternative to Iranian oil, but it does not mean that in the mid-term or long-term it will be impossible for India to figure out some long-standing arrangement. Saudi Arabia and Iraq are poised to make up the bulk of India’s oil needs. Saudi Arabia is more interested in exporting oil to India in order to weakening Iran’s position in its oil market, with the added bonus of making a dent in the Iranian economy.

 

India and China are interested in establishing an “Oil Buyer’s Club,” to increase their bargaining power and reduce the power of the U.S. oil market by also importing crude from the U.S. China and India had previously proposed to buy Iranian oil in exchange for being paid in Yuan and Rupees.

 

Iran’s main issue (among many) is to be available to attract foreign investment when it does have the chance to bypass sanctions, and this requires an accommodating legal framework, an efficient and fast decision process, and political stability (especially in the international context). These variables are far from being achieved, and the country has a long road ahead.

 

Iran and Saudi Arabia Compete for India’s Energy Market

 

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Iranian-Indian Energy Relations Under Sanctions

Since it has huge oil and gas reserves and is geographically quite close, Iran is ideally placed to provide energy to India, and thus the country is Iran’s second largest oil market after China. Even at the height of the U.S. sanctions on Iran’s energy sector, India continued to import oil from the country. The relationship between Iran and India has expanded rapidly in recent years. After the 2015 nuclear deal, with the lifting of sanctions in various fields, especially energy, economic and commercial links between Iran and India expanded dramatically.

With new sanctions on the horizon, Iran provided significant discounts to Indian importers last summer. Thus, the volume of August imports was 56 percent higher than the previous August. So far, India is one of the countries exempted from secondary sanctions that the Trump administration is imposing on states doing business with Iran. But oil prices are expected to rise nevertheless, which will adversely affect India as the third largest oil importer in the world.

Although sanctions on banking prevented New Delhi from transferring money from the sale of oil to Iran in time, links were preserved thanks to strategies established during the previous round of sanctions. At that time, 55 percent of the proceeds from the sale of Iranian oil to India were deposited in euros and 45 percent in rupee in UCO Bank, an Indian financial institution, after which most of the money was transferred to Iran. This time around, UCO Bank is reluctant to serve as the conduit for funds, and India has opted to pay Iran in rupees through the Mumbai branch of an Iranian bank.

India has launched a major effort to invest in petrochemicals, chemical fertilizer, and the other upstream industries of its own oil industry. The country’s Oil and Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan has announced plans to invest $20 billion in Iranian oil and gas infrastructure. Iran, aiming to gain a competitive edge over other suppliers, has delivered oil at reduced prices to India, offered a longer period of credit to pay for oil purchases, and is transporting the oil almost for free. In addition, many Indian refineries are equipped to match Iranian refineries, so they cannot easily rely on other suppliers. Iran has also offered to cover the insurance for tankers that carry Iranian oil to India in lieu of an exemption from international financial institutions.

The port of Chabahar is the best, the closest, and the least costly route for Iran to reach global markets and promote the development of neighboring countries. India has committed to invest $500 million to develop Chabahar port. Iran and Afghanistan, meanwhile, want to establish an international freight corridor through this port, and several Indian wheat shipments have already gone to Afghanistan through Chabahar. New sanctions against Iran, however, threaten the success of the Chabahar project by not only preventing countries and companies from trading with Iran but also by threatening sanctions on financial institutions that engage with Iran. These sanctions will reduce the flow of capital and business to the port.

On November 7, the United States announced that it would waive sanctions on certain parts of the Chabahar port, along with the Chabahar-Afghanistan railway project and Iranian petroleum exports to Afghanistan. Since Islamabad is not allowing India to use Pakistani territory for direct business with Afghanistan, Chabahar is important for Indian access not only to Iran but to Afghanistan and beyond. The diversification of energy resources is a key pillar of Indian energy policy. If sanctions continue to punish the Iranian energy sector after the U.S. waivers expire, India will reduce oil imports from Iran and increase imports from Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Indian oil imports from Iran were expected to grow by 31 percent year-on-year, reaching 500,000 barrels per day in the fiscal year beginning April 1, 2018. Iran understands India’s problems in dealing with an unpredictable energy market and will do everything it can to ensure the security of India’s energy supply. India’s relations with Iran are also complicated by the impasse over Indian investment into developing Iran’s Farzad B gas field.

China has been one of the strongest drivers of closer relations between Iran and India. An economic corridor between China and Pakistan and the former’s investments into the port of Gwadar is a common geopolitical challenge for both India and Iran. The economic corridor is designed to limit Indian operations in the western regions of the Indian Ocean and the Oman Sea. An expanded Gwadar port, meanwhile, undermines the potential of the Chabahar port and allows Pakistan to challenge its regional rival, India, in the area of Afghanistan.

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U.S. Sanctions Threaten India’s Importation of Iranian Oil

Washington has said that to achieve significant reductions in Iranian oil exports it needs India to observe the sanctions.

 

by Rauf Mammadov Follow @RaufNMammadov and   Omid Shokri Kalehsar Follow @ushukrik

When the United States pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal in May, it told countries trading with Iran that they would have to stop soon or face American sanctions.

As the first ninety-day wind-down period for ceasing trading with Iran comes to an end, Washington is ratcheting up the pressure on the main importers of Iranian crude oil.

However, most of the other countries that signed the nuclear deal —including many in Europe—continue to support it. But companies, not governments, import oil—and they are likely to buckle under the U.S. pressure.

A key exception is Chinese companies, which collectively amount to the world’s largest buyer of Iranian oil. They remain defiant against the U.S. sanctions threat, a stance which their government obviously supports. The defiance comes as tension with America already increasing due to a trade war that Washington started.

 

The European Union is also embroiled in a trade war with the United States. This is increasing the pressure on European companies to comply with Washington’s no-trade-with-Iran order. Most have said they will comply with it.

Another important player in the Iran sanctions game is India. In fact, the United States has said that to achieve significant reductions in Iranian oil exports it needs India to observe the sanctions.

Iran’s geographical proximity to India, coupled with India’s growing demand for petroleum, made an oil trading partnership between the two almost inevitable.

In 2017, India imported almost 40 percent of its oil from Iran, making it the second-largest importer of Iranian crude, behind China. India bought $13 billion worth of petroleum products from Iran that year, with crude accounting for the vast majority

The energy cooperation between Tehran and Delhi has not been limited to oil and gas trading, however.

After the Iran nuclear deal was signed in the summer of 2015, India began making major investments in Iran’s oil industry, including building petrochemical and fertilizer plants.

India has also wanted to invest in the Farzad B gas field. An Indian consortium led by the state-owned Oil and Gas Corporation discovered the field in 2012, and it began producing in 2013. A dispute over the terms of India’s participation in the field’s production has prevented a deal from being reached, however.

Meanwhile, Iran’s plan to build a gas pipeline through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India has been stalled due to disagreements over the terms of the deal.

Furthermore, after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited India in February, the countries expressed optimism that their trade would double.

Two events undermined that optimism, however. One was the United States increasing its threats to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal —which it ended up making good on in May. The other was Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main political rival in the Middle East, stepping up its energy diplomacy toward India.

In April, Saudi Aramco signed a deal with a consortium of Indian companies led by the state-owned Indian Oil Corporation to take a 50 percent stake in a $44 billion mega-refinery and petrochemicals complex that will be built in the port city of Ratnagiri. The Saudis calculated that helping India create one of the world’s largest refining and petrochemical complexes would not only help tilt it away from Iran but also guarantee long-term Saudi crude sales to India

Meanwhile, the United States has been increasing its diplomacy toward India, with the key goal of persuading India to embrace sanctions against Iran.

 

In addition, America’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who is of Indian descent, visited New Delhi last month to ask that India reduce its Iranian oil imports.

 

A U.S. Treasury Department delegation followed. It was led by Marshall Billingslea, the department’s assistant secretary for anti-terrorism financing. Given Billingslea’s background, one topic was likely to be a scheme that Iran and India used to avoid previous U.S. sanctions against Iran.

The two visits are already yielding results for Washington.

 

Indian refineries have begun canceling oil import contracts with Iran. Hindustan Petroleum, which owns India’s third-largest refinery, canceled an Iranian oil shipment in July when its insurance company refused to cover the sale because of impending U.S. sanctions.

In addition, news surfaced that Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries , which owns the largest refining complex in the world, also planned to halt Iranian oil imports.

Fearing aggressive Trump administration policies towards Iran, India is also expected to scrap the rupee-based trade agreement it concluded with Iran three years ago, Iranian sources say.

India had used the rupee-rial arrangement to buy Iranian oil before U.S. sanctions were lifted against Iran in 2016. The two sides used Turkey’s Halk Bank as an intermediary in their trading.

 

In May, a federal judge in New York sentenced a top Halk Bank executive to three years in prison for designing and carrying out the scheme. U.S. prosecutors had contended that the deal was used to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran that the Obama administration imposed before the nuclear deal.

Before he became assistant Treasury secretary for anti-terrorism financing, Billingslea was managing director of business intelligence services for Deloitte, where he focused on illicit finance. In the wake of the prison sentence against the Halk Bank executive for the rupee-rial scheme, it was significant that after Billingslea left India, his next destination was Turkey .

 

India did obtain one sanctions-related victory from the United States, however. Washington agreed to allow it to invest in the expansion of Iran’s port of Chabahar if it complies with U.S. import sanctions against Iran.

Chabahar is key to an Indian policy of offsetting Pakistan’s and China’s use of Pakistan’s port of Gwadar to project more power in the region. China has made renovation and expansion of the port of Gwadar an integral part of its $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project. The project includes a naval base.

Chabahar is only 107 miles from Gwadar. Iran has asked India to help it build steel and petrochemical plants in the port to boost its economy and increase development along the Makrān coast. It also plans to create a free trade zone in the port to try to spur economic growth.

 

With so many countries trying to flex their muscle in the region —the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China and Pakistan—India is likely to find it harder to strike a balance between competing interests in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

It will continue to accommodate Iran by supporting the nuclear deal and by participating in mutually beneficial projects such as the expansion of the port of Chabahar.

But it will be increasingly difficult and dangerous for Indian refining and petrochemical companies to find wiggle room that allows them to avoid U.S. sanctions, as they once did.

Rauf Mammadov is a resident scholar at Middle East Institute and Senior Advi

sor at Gulf State Analytics.

Omid Shokri Kalehsar is a Washington-based senior energy security analyst, and Ph.D. Candidate in International Relations at Yalova University, Turkey.

https://nationalinterest.org/blog/middle-east-watch/us-sanctions-threaten-indias-importation-iranian-oil-28252?page=0%2C1

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