The European Union is considering switching payments from the US dollar to the euro after Washington threatened to target European firms working in Iran, according to reports.

The measure may help the EU to retain one of the world’s largest markets, which was opened for trade after the historic nuclear deal signed by Tehran and the P5+1 powers (China, France, Russia, UK, US, plus Germany) in June 2015.

The idea to eliminate the role of the greenback in international settlements is not new. Aside from the EU, a number of nations have been mulling the idea. RT discussed with analysts how realistic the prospect of countries ditching the dollar is.

In light of the recent developments Iran is the most pressured nation to drop the dollar with Tehran having partially adjusted trade without the US currency, Alexandre Kateb, president of Competence Finance SAS, told RT.

“When Iran was previously under sanctions from 2012 to 2015, it established new mechanisms to bypass US-related financial institutions, such as barter exchange and to replace the dollar with other currencies, such as the renminbi in its bilateral trade with China or the euro in its trade with European countries,” the economist said.

At the same time, China’s recent move to trade oil in yuan is seen as an initial step to challenging the dollar dominance, Stephen Innes, Head of FX Trading for OANDA in Asia Pacific told RT, stressing that the number of bilateral trade agreements, signed amongst Asia Pacific nations, will settle in yuan.

“Mainland it is laying the ground for the Belt and Road Initiative, and China is even sweetening the pot by offering swap facilities to local countries to promote the use of the yuan,” he added.

Experts are unanimous on the point that bi- and multi-lateral pacts between various nations could become the major drivers on the way toward decreasing the dependence on US currency in international trade.

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© Andrew Winning

“This would depend on the leverage the EU, the UK, Russia and China deploy. The likely scenario is diversification – bilateral arrangements between trading partners, or regional arrangements, substituting for multilateral arrangements that supported dollar dominance,” Ramaa Vasudevan an Associate Professor at the Department of Economics, Colorado State University told RT.

At the same time, analysts admit that getting rid of the greenback is not an easy task. It took the US dollar nearly a century to unsettle the British pound that had been enjoying its preeminence through the 19th century and the first half of the 20th as the global reserve currency.

“Old habits are hard to break as most of the global hedging is still done on US exchanges like Nymex or ICE,” Innes said. “The issues are working out the deliverable to hedge ratio factors which could put many off from breaking long-held settlement in US dollar.”

“The US dollar is still, for many reasons, the international trade and reserve currency of choice,” according to Kateb. “The whole international financial system is currently structured around the United States and around the central role of the dollar.”

However, the expert noted that the international system will change dramatically. Rapid development of blockchain technology along with rooting of virtual currencies is reportedly set to bring about the changing process.

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Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi attends a celebration of the 40th anniversary of his coming to power at the Green Square in Tripoli September 1, 2009. © Zohra Bensemra

“Eventually, the evolution of global finance will be very much related to the evolution of the global balance of power,” the economist told RT. “This will not happen overnight. It will take time and many more crises and balance shifts. None really knows what the new system will look like.”

The experts agreed that expelling the greenback from its dominant position in the international monetary system will take much more effort than just replacing it with the euro or other domestic currencies.

“Dollar dominance does not depend simply on its use to denominate trade, but on the dollar’s role as the pivot of the international financial system – the fact that about 88 percent of the average daily turnover of foreign exchange instruments is against the dollar, in contrast to the share of the euro which is only about 31 percent,”said Vasudevan.

The researcher highlighted that the recent impulse for dislodging the US currency is a symptom of a wider discontent with the rules of the dollar system, but is not a cure for the dollar problem.

Dropping the dollar: Venezuela lists oil price in Chinese yuan

In response to sanctions from Washington, Venezuela has started reporting its oil prices in Chinese yuan, going against the international trend of listing prices in US dollars.

On Friday, the weekly Oil Ministry bulletin published its prices for September in yuan, rather than the US dollar. The price-per-barrel posted on Friday was 306.26 yuan, or $46.76 on the more commonly-used exchange rate, up from last week’s price of 300.91 yuan, or $46.15.

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© Jason Lee

“This format is the result of the announcement made on September 7th by the President [Nicolas Maduro]… that Venezuela will implement new strategies to free the country from the tyranny of the dollar,” the Venezuelan Oil Ministry said in a statement.

The decision to move to Chinese currency was made last week as a way to get around the sanctions imposed on Venezuela by the US government in August, which froze some Venezuelan assets and prohibited American citizens from doing business with the country.

This has hurt Venezuela’s oil exports at a time when the country is facing a severe economic crisis. At the time, the White House said the sanctions were “carefully calibrated to deny the Maduro dictatorship a critical source of financing”.

“The market is dominated by transactions with the US dollar, and we must develop other ways to conduct international transactions,” Finance Minister Ramon Lobo told VTV earlier.

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© Mihail Metzel

Venezuela’s decision follows plans announced by China to start a crude oil futures contract priced in yuan and convertible into gold, which could lead to the emergence of a new Asia-based crude oil benchmark.

As China is the world’s biggest crude buyer, the new contract may allow exporters to bypass American sanctions by trading oil in yuan, something that has interested countries such as Russia and Iran.

“In 2012, Iran began to accept yuan for its oil and gas payments, followed by Russia in 2015,” political writer Dan Glazebrook wrote in a column for RT in June.

“If this takes off, this could literally spell the beginning of the end of US global power. The dollar is the world’s leading reserve currency, in the main, only because oil is currently traded in dollars. Countries seeking foreign exchange reserves as insurance against crises within their own currencies tend to look to the dollar precisely because it is effectively ‘convertible’ into oil, the world’s number one commodity.”

 

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