WASHINGTON, Jan 8 (Reuters) - The nascent U.S. liquefied natural gas export industry has been particularly vulnerable to the U.S.-China trade war, the head of the American Petroleum Institute industry group said on Tuesday, adding that he hopes negotiators will soon resolve the dispute.
Mike Sommers, the president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, told reporters an escalating trade dispute could harm U.S. LNG producers, as other countries move in to fill any gap.
“This is a leadership vacuum that will be filled by many of the United States’ opponents,” Sommers told reporters in a teleconference about LNG from other countries filling China’s needs if the fuel does not come from the United States.
The United States is the world’s fastest-growing exporter of LNG. China, the fastest-growing importer, bought about 15 percent of U.S. LNG exports in 2017, worth about $447 million. Through much of 2018, China was on track to buy just 10 percent of the exports.
President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese imports last year and threatened to pressure Beijing more to change its practices on issues ranging from industrial subsidies to intellectual property and hacking. China has retaliated with its own tariffs.
The trade dispute has also roiled crude oil markets since last year on worries it could harm consumer demand. Oil prices rose on Tuesday on hopes for successful negotiations.
Sommers said countries that elbow their way in to supply LNG to China may not produce the fuel as environmentally responsibly as U.S. companies and in some cases they may be countries that are not favorable to Washington’s foreign policy.
He did not mention any other countries but the United States has competed with Russia for LNG markets.
“A lot of times energy is used as a club by rogue nations and I think (the United States) has proven itself to be a reliable supplier,” he said.
Sommers said the API was encouraged that the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, were having trade talks in Beijing that will continue for an unscheduled third day, as they look to resolve the dispute.
Last month Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a 90-day freeze on new tariffs to advance trade talks, declaring a truce following months of escalating tensions. U.S. companies proposing new LNG export terminals, including Liquefied Natural Gas Ltd, have been hoping the agreement could help advance their projects. (Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by David Gregorio)