Since its big default on its foreign debt (which I should really write about, it was ingenious) Ecuador has made a lot of oil-for-loans deals with China. The FT reported that Ecuador sold oil at $14-$15 per barrel. Felix Salmon wrote a post entitled “How Ecuador sold itself to China.” Neat stuff.
But exaggerated. The Bolivarians in Quito have not sold their sovereignty to China. Here’s the deal. The China Development Bank (CDB) loans money to Ecuador. Petroecuador repays by shipping oil to China. The Chinese pay for the oil at market prices. The money is deposited in the CDB, which withdraws 21% of the revenue to repay the loan. China has made three of these loans, at fairly cheap interest rates: 7.25% for the first , 6% for the second and 6.9% for the third, at a time when Ecuador basically could not borrow and paid 8.45% on its outstanding issues.
OK, so no Chinese empire ... but is China freeing Ecuador from dependence on the United States? (We will ignore that whole dollarization thing.) Not really. There are some reports that the country is now exporting all its crude to China and Latin America. The official figures for the first half of 2012, however, tell a different story. By value, 59% of oil exports went to the United States; another 11% went to Chile and 10% to Peru. Only 2% worth (or $137 million) went to China. Ditto, imports of refined products from the U.S. of A. came to 55% of Ecuadorian petroleum imports; an additional 8% came from Panama. Only 5% came from Venezuela and nothing from China. Ecuadorian crude isn’t the best quality, but it’s good enough for Chinese refineries ... except they do not seem to really want it.*
(A useful resume of different oil blends is here: scroll to Table 1.)
OK, then. Unless something drastically changes, Ecuador is going to pay Occidental. Maybe not for a while, but it will pay. And China does not have a colony across the Pacific, fun as it is to imagine such a thing.
I should mention that the international courts thing runs both ways. Maybe Ecuador will pay Occidental with assets taken from Chevron ...
* UPDATE: I imagine that Petroecuador is swapping its oil for oil from other sources to send to China. PDVSA does this all the time, so it would not be unprecedented, and it would explain why the Central Bank reports almost no crude exports to the PRC despite the loan deals.