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The IV Summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum: from the “heart” of South America

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From the 21th to the 24th of November, the Fourth Summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) was held in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, controlling over 70% of the world’s gas reserves, 40% of gas pipelines and 65% of the world trade of liquefied gas. The GECF unites the world’s leading gas exporters – the countries of this organization own about 73% of the world’s total natural gas reserves. The members of the Forum of Gas Exporting Countries are Algeria, Bolivia, Venezuela, Egypt, Iran, Qatar, Libya, Nigeria, United Arab Emirates, Russia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Equatorial Guinea. To date, the following states have observer status: Iraq, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Norway, Oman and Peru.

The Gas Exporting Countries Forum was established in Tehran in 2001. However, it is worth noting that until 2007, the GECF remained a platform for the exchange of experience, statistical data and information in the gas sector, which did not have a single permanent leadership, budget and its own headquarter. But in April of 2007, at the Sixth GECF in Doha, Qatar, the situation changed, and the participating countries made a fateful decision to create a working group led by the Ministry of Industry and Energy of the Russian Federation to coordinate actions to establish a full-fledged international organization. The new stage in the development of the GECF was, first of all, connected with the unfolding discussion in the world community about the need to form a gas analog of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

At the meeting in Doha in 2007 it was determined that the comparison of the created structure with the OPEC is illegal, since the mechanisms of trade in the gas industry have a number of fundamental differences from oil trade. The agreement on the establishment of the organization (with the preservation of its original name, the Gas Exporting Countries Forum) was signed on the 23th of December of 2008 at the Seventh meeting of the GECF in Moscow. Part of the agreement was the charter; the document came into force on the 1st of October of 2009. According to this charter, the Forum aims to: protect the sovereign right of member countries to their natural gas reserves, the possibilities for independent planning and ensuring the development of the gas industry. Within the framework of the Forum, issues such as relations with the countries that consume natural gas are addressed; exchange of opinions, statistics and information on forecasts and implementation of investment programs; coordination of joint work on liquefied natural gas (LNG); introduction and application of advanced technologies for exploration, production and transportation in the gas industry; world trends in gas development and production; preservation of the international balance of supply and demand for gas; structure and development of gas markets; environmental protection and resolution of ecological problems.

The GECF summits are held every two years, the meetings of the member countries of the organization at the ministerial level are held every year. This year the Ministerial meeting took place on the 4th of October in Moscow within the framework of the Forum “Russian Energy Week”. At the XIX Ministerial Meeting, the Deputy Minister of Energy of the Russian Federation, Yuri Sentyurin, was elected as the General Secretary of the GECF on the 1st of January of 2018. Early next year, he will replace the representative of Iran – Seyed Mohammed Hussein Adeli.

In the previous GECF Summit in Tehran on the 23th of November of 2015, the Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as the presidents of Bolivia, Venezuela, Iran, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and the Prime Minister of Algeria took part.

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At the IV Summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the Russian Federation was represented by the Minister of Energy – Alexander Novak. As part of his speech, the Minister addressed the Summit participants with a greeting from the President of the Russian Federation and highlighted the main approaches of Russia to solving international issues in the gas industry.

“On the margins” of the GECF Summit, Alexander Novak held a number of important negotiations and bilateral meetings, both with the government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, and with the heads of delegations of other countries. The leading gas company of Russia PJSC “Gazprom” managed to sign several promising bilateral agreements with the Bolivian part aimed at developing further cooperation in the energy sector.

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The IV Summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum in Santa Cruz de la Sierra was a symbolic indicator of Russia’s special attention to the Latin American region in the energy sector. Not accidentally, Bolivia was chosen as the venue for the next meeting of the GECF participants. In recent years, Bolivia has become the center of gravity of the geopolitical interests of the Russian Federation in Latin America, due to the presence of the Bolivian state’s large reserves of minerals, in particular, it should be noted the leading positions in the region – in natural gas reserves, and geographic location in the “heart” itself continent of South America.

Over the past year, the prospects for bilateral cooperation were discussed twice by the Ministers of foreign affairs, Serguéi Lavrov and Fernando Huanacuni Mamani, in Moscow and New York. Within the framework of these meetings, it was determined that the widest field of activity is in the energy sector. In addition to the richest deposits of gas and oil, Bolivia possesses substantial reserves of such precious metals as tin, tungsten and lithium. However, with such indicators, Bolivia for a long time remained one of the poorest countries in the Latin American region. Positive dynamics have been outlined since the beginning of 2006, after the coming to power of Evo Morales, although today the Bolivian state still urgently needs to attract foreign investment and advanced technologies.

The IV Summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum in Santa Cruz de la Sierra reiterated the interest of Russian companies in the development of their activities in Latin America, in particular in Bolivia. A number of experts do not see significant obstacles to the development of bilateral cooperation, although some disagreements in approach to certain fundamental issues exist. Affecting Bolivia, it is worth emphasizing its commitment to the concept of “socialism of the XXI century” (or as it is often referred to as “socialism with a human face”), at the moment the statist economic model is formed, the main characteristic of which is that the strategic branches are in the hands of the state. As a result, the penetration of foreign capital into these industries entails a number of difficulties, which must be taken into account by Russian companies.

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