Few geoeconomic game-changers are more spectacular than yuan-denominated future crude oil contracts – especially when set up by the largest importer of crude on the planet.
And yet Beijing’s media strategy seems to have consisted in substantially play down the official launch of the petro-yuan at the Shanghai International Energy Exchange.
Still, some euphoria was in order. Brent Crude soared to $71 a barrel for the first time since 2015. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) reached the highest level in three years at $66.55 a barrel; then retreated to $65.53.
A series of petro-yuan “firsts” include the first time overseas investors are able to access a Chinese commodity market. Significantly, US dollars will be accepted as deposit and for settlement. In the near future, a basket of currencies will also be accepted as deposit.
Does the launch of the petro-yuan represent the ultimate deathblow to the petrodollar – and the birth of a completely new set of rules? Not so fast. That may take years, and depends on many variables, the most important of which will be China’s capacity to bend, tweak and ultimately rule the global oil market.
As the yuan progressively reaches full consolidation in trade settlement, the petro-yuan threat to the US dollar, inscribed in a complex, long-term process, will disseminate the Holy Grail: crude oil futures contracts priced in yuan fully convertible into gold.
That means China’s vast array of trade partners will be able to convert yuan into gold without having to keep funds in Chinese assets or turn them into US dollars. Exporters facing the wrath of Washington, such as Russia, Iran or Venezuela, may then avoid US sanctions by trading oil in yuan convertible to gold. Iran and Venezuela, for instance, would have no problems redirecting tankers to China in order to sell directly in the Chinese market – if that’s what it takes.
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