Oil fund won’t exclude PetroChina

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The Norwegian government is ignoring a recommendation from a state ethics council that it ban investments by Norway’s oil fund in the Chinese oil company PetroChina. Meanwhile, a Chinese shipbuilding company is making inroads on Norway’s west coast.

The oil fund's office in Shanghai. PHOTO: Norges Bank

The ethics council, which reviews investments made by Norway’s huge sovereign wealth fund, had recommended that PetroChina be blacklisted because of an “unacceptable risk” that the company was contributing to ongoing and future human rights violations. The violations were tied to construction of oil and gas pipelines in Burma.

The Norwegian government usually goes along with the ethics council’s positions on various company investments, and has rejected investments in 53 firms over the years. The finance ministry has opted to reject the council’s views on PetroChina, however, calling them too “weak” to warrant exclusion.

The Chinese-government-owned China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) owns 87 percent of PetroChina, stocklisted in Shanghai, Hong Kong and New York. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that Norway’s oil find, officially known as the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global, held 0.04 percent of PetroChina’s shares at the beginning of this year.

It’s another CNPC unit, Southeast Asia Crude Pipeline Co, that’s directly involved in the construction of pipelines in Burma, and DN reported the finance ministry decided that “after a closer evaluation,” the Norwegian government didn’t think the ties between PetroChina and CNPC were strong enough to view them as a whole. The ministry thus “decided not to follow the ethics council’s advice,” even though the council had pointed out that the companies shared personnel, organizational and economic ties.

Relations between Norway and China have been severely troubled since the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded last year’s Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident. There was no confirmation, though, that the decision against blacklisting PetroChina was tied to the diplomatic drama. DN reported that the finance ministry also rejected the council’s advice to exlude French industrial firm Alstom, but it’s under “observation” because of “risk of serious fraud.” Alstom has been involved in the government’s long-delayed carbon capture project at Statoil’s Mongstad plant.

Sinopacific sets up shop in Sunnmøre
Meanwhile, the Shanghai-based Sinopacific Shipbuilding Group has set up its first subsidiary outside China in Norway, based at Fosnavåg, not far from Ulsteinvik in the county of Møre og Romsdal. Sinopacific is privately owned and officials said its interest in the Norwegian offshore industry hasn’t been dampened by the drama over the Peace Prize.

The firm specializes in offshore supply vessels and reportedly is keen to gain insight into Norwegian design and technology. Its local boss Simon Liang told newspaper Aftenposten that the Norwegian offshore industry has nothing to fear from the presence of the world’s biggest producer of supply vessels.

“I don’t see any negative sides for either, but it’s important to have a good understanding of each other’s culture,” Liang told Aftenposten. He also noted that as a privately owned shipyard, Sinopacific isn’t afraid to do business in Norway. “We haven’t had any political directives,” he said. Visa procedures, however, are said to have become more bureacractic.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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