Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Russia, China to Promote Ruble, Yuan Use in Trade

The leaders of Russia and China agreed to expand use of the ruble and yuan in bilateral trade to lessen dependence on the U.S. dollar a day after they took part in the first summit of the so-called BRIC countries.

“We agreed to take further steps in this direction, including, perhaps, by adjusting contracts and laws that already exist,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told reporters in the Kremlin today after talks with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao.

Russia, the world’s biggest energy supplier, wants to start selling oil to China in rubles, said Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who is also chairman of OAO Rosneft, Russia’s biggest oil company. Energy sales in rubles are a “strategic” issue for Russia, he said, adding that oil exports to China over the next 20 years will surpass $100 billion.

Brazil, Russia, India and China agreed yesterday to push for more clout in global financial institutions during what Medvedev called BRIC’s “historic” first summit in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg. China and Russia have called for a more diversified financial system to give emerging economies a bigger say in economic affairs, including the creation of alternatives to the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency.

‘Symbolic Value’

“Expanding the use of national currencies in mutual settlements is a separate, important task,” Medvedev said. China has the world’s biggest foreign-currency reserves, almost $2 trillion, while Russia is third with more than $400 billion.

The ruble weakened 0.1 percent to 31.2396 against the dollar in Moscow today after earlier strengthening as much as 0.4 percent. The yuan was little changed against the dollar on speculation China will prevent appreciation to avoid a prolonged slump in the nation’s exports.

It will take “at least a couple of years” to start converting the first contracts into domestic currencies, said Elina Ribakova, Citigroup Inc.’s chief economist in Moscow.

Today’s announcement has “important symbolic value,” she said. “If you take a 10- or 20-year perspective, trade between Russia and China will increase significantly.”

Total trade between the neighboring countries reached a record $56.8 billion last year, according to the Kremlin.

After today’s Moscow meeting, Russia and China signed an agreement worth $3 billion to cooperate in trade and investment in areas including light industries, high technology and energy.

U.S. Deficit

The dollar’s status has come into question as leaders of the BRIC nations consider substituting other assets for their dollar holdings amid a ballooning budget deficit that keeps the U.S. dependent on foreign financing. China alone owns about $744 billion of U.S. Treasury bonds among its $2 trillion of foreign- exchange reserves.

Russian central bank First Deputy Chairman Alexei Ulyukayev’s comment on June 10 that Russia may sell some of its U.S. bonds to buy International Monetary Fund notes helped push 10-year yields on Treasuries to the highest level since October.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva today denied that BRIC leaders discussed buying each other’s bonds at the Yekaterinburg summit, after Medvedev’s top economic adviser said the matter might be discussed.

Dollar bonds sold by China earned 11.4 percent in the past year, more than double the 4.6 percent for debt in yuan, JPMorgan Chase & Co. indexes show. Brazil’s U.S. currency bonds returned 3.6 percent as real-based notes lost 4.9 percent, and Russia’s dollar bonds outperformed with a 1.9 percent loss compared with a 7 percent drop in ruble debt. India doesn’t have dollar-denominated debt.