Algeria and its illusory raw material annuity

The Minister of Energy whilst proceeding with the installation of an inter-sectorial Steering Committee of the mega-partnership project for phosphate exploitation and the development of petrochemical industries, said in a communiqué that this will enable Algeria to “become a global exporter of phosphate fertilizers and its derivatives”. This contribution is about Algeria and its illusory raw material annuity potentialities with a particular look at the case of phosphate mining and exploiting.

This strategic mega-project’s objective is to achieve a production of phosphates of nearly 11 million Tons/year compared to 1 to 1.5 million of Tons/year currently.

Unlike euphoria such as stated by the former Minister of Industry in 2014 – 2015 that thanks to the exports of phosphate, iron and cement, Algeria would not be negatively impacted by the recent oil prices drop. However, for both phosphate and iron (crude or semi-crude) and cement, marketing depends so much on the constraints of the international strategic environment management, the content of these ores that determines the cost of exploitation, and above all the growth of the world economy whose future structure with the fourth industrial revolution that gradually sets in by 2018 through 2030.

In these internationalized segments, some multinational firms control the techniques and distribution channels. We should avoid the mistakes of the past that have been estimated at billions of Dollars’ worth of losses and approach these for some mutual understanding.

Phosphate is a key element in the composition of fertilizers which are of crucial importance for world food security, but paradoxically the prices between 2015 to 2018 have been oriented downward.

For phosphate reserves, by order we have Morocco 50000 MT, China 3700, Algeria 2200, Syria 1800, South Africa 1500, Russia 1300, Jordan 1300, Egypt 1250, Australia 1030, The USA 1100 and Saudi Arabia 950. As far as production is concerned, we have for 2015, 223 million metric tons (MT) including China 100 MT, Morocco 30 MT, USA 27.6 MT, Egypt 5.5 MT, Tunisia 4 MT, Saudi Arabia 3.3 MT, Israel 3.3 MT, Australia 2.6 MT, Vietnam 2.6 MT, Jordan 2.5 MT and Algeria 2.6 MT. The price of crude phosphate has been divided by three since its peak in the year 2008; Having fallen by 43.2% since the year 2011. The world price of raw phosphate remained stable at around US $115 per MT, on a monthly average of 2015. According to a forecast of the World Bank, the general and medium-term trend of prices of phosphate products would remain down; crude phosphate would negotiate in 2020 at about of $80 – 85 per MT, that of DAP around $377.5 /MT and the TSP to nearly $300 /MT.  In a new analysis, the world rating agency estimates that the prices of phosphate ore will remain on average at 100 per tonne (toll-free), in 2018 and the prices of the ton of phosphate ore (no charge on board) would reach $105 in 2019 and possibly $110 in the long-term

Crude phosphate price is this month approximately $86 per ton compared to $84 for the same period in 2017. So, if Algeria exports 3 (three) million ton of raw phosphate annually at an average price of $100 between 2018 through 2020, we could have a turnover of about $300 million and for ten million tons a billion Dollars.

All related costs in this sector being relatively high, of notably depreciation and wages at a minimum of 40%, the resulting net profit would be, for 10 (ten) million tons about $600 million. In the event of an association with a foreign partner using the unavoidable 49/51% rule, the net profit of Algeria would be slightly more than $300 million. We are therefore, far from the profits generated from the oil fields.

To increase net profit, it is therefore necessary to embark on highly intensive processing units with heavy and profitable investments in the medium term with an export of as diverse products as possible. Thus, in a market as competitive as that of  the European Union, all fertilizer / Urea products were sold at more than $423 per ton in 2014 and was quoted on an annual average in 2017 at $327 per ton and on April 24th, 2018 to €247 per ton.

The price of Ammonia is a function of the price of gas on the international market. For instance, when the price of gas is $4 / MBTU, the cost of Ammonia is about the current rate of $140 / ton. When the gas price is $7 per MBTU, the cost price is $242.

In the world market, prices fluctuated between $338 / ton in August 2017 and $404 as quoted at the beginning of February 2018. But for large exportable quantities, this requiring heavy investments in the medium term would bring any profit not before 2020 – 2022 if the project was in operation as of 2018. And for large exportable quantities, this would require going through some partnership notably because of the world market being controlled by some firms. Moreover, for Algeria, it will be necessary to solve the problem of the price of the transfer of gas which cannot be aligned with that of the market and avoid the numerous disputes. In this context, I recommend, following many experts, that petrochemicals be attached to the Ministry of Energy / SONATRACH for greater coherence and efficiency, even if it is to establish a State Secretariat for Petrochemical Industries.

Focusing only on the country’s higher interests, it must be recognised that there is a lack of strategic vision. I would like to think that, as a word of warning against all visions of utopias of the past, should be left behind.

All this raises the problem of the limits of all public expenditure via the annuity and refers, for Algeria, to the mastery of strategic management to at least avoid all mismanagement, ignoring the new global mutations and / or initiation of non-mature projects that may go bankrupt in between time. A pertinent example is this drift towards all those automotive assembly plants where we ended up with more than thirty manufacturers, thing unknown anywhere in the world.  Hence the importance of understanding the new mutations of these internationalised channels in perpetual technological change.

 

Algeria needs a Vision within which all industrial policies should be coordinated (institutions, financial system, fiscal, customs, federal, socio-educational systems, labor market, land use, etc.), in order to adapt to the new world in perpetual evolution driven by innovation. Without this necessary adaptation to the new world in perpetual change, referring to a clear political will to accelerate the reforms, thus to a cultural revival generalized to the society as a whole, Algeria having all the required potentialities to go beyond the current status quo, it is futile to penetrate any world market. Algeria still dependent for long years on hydrocarbons, all other raw materials would only help make it possible to realize just an average profit,

In short, a win-win partnership with companies that control international circuits is the only way to value phosphate and to bring more value-added because exporting the raw material per say would not be as vitally important especially in a heavily devalued currency.

Let us avoid the illusion of an eternal annuity via some raw materials related exports revenues, as I recall in my previous contributions, no country in the world that has focused solely on raw materials has achieved sustainable development. As we must avoid this myth of the power of capital-money as a means. If we take the oil exporting countries of the MENA region that have had hundreds of billions of Dollars in the last three decades, none have achieved at least an emerging country status.

Since the world is world, and this proves truer with the forthcoming fourth world economic revolution, the prosperity of different civilizations has always been based on good governance.

Ademmebtoul@gmail.com 

 

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