Venezuela to Export Marble as US Oil Contractor Reduces Operations Over Payment Difficulties

Venezuela begins exporting marble to the Caribbean amid reports that French-US oil contractor Schlumberger plans to cut back services due to payment difficulties. 

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Venezuela will export 60 tons of marble per month. (Courtesy)
Venezuela will export 60 tons of marble per month. (Courtesy)
By LUCAS KOERNER
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Caracas, April 14, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The French-US oil services giant Schlumberger Ltd. announced Tuesday that it will scale down operations in Venezuela, citing payment difficulties on the part of state oil company PDVSA.

"Schlumberger appreciates the efforts of its main customer in the country to find alternative payment solutions and remains fully committed to supporting the Venezuelan exploration and production industry," the firm stated. "However, Schlumberger is unable to increase its accounts receivable balances beyond their current level," the firm’s statement continued.

The move comes in response to PDVSA's alleged difficulties in making payments to transnational oil contractors as a result of a recession triggered by the collapse of global oil prices– Venezuela's principal source of international currency earnings.

In 2013, Schlumberger granted PDVSA a USD$1 billion credit line in order to continue providing services in spite of rising debts.

However, amid the Venezuelan state's downward fiscal spiral, the two companies agreed in January that Schlumberger would receive certain fixed assets in lieu of a nearly USD$200 million fourth quarter payment.

Meanwhile in February, PDVSA announced a new deal with the Houston and Paris based firm to extend the existing credit line, but no subsequent details were disclosed.

Venezuela, for its part, has rejected reports of service cutbacks by Schlumberger, insisting that it will continue payments to the world's largest oil contractor, which will remain present in the country.

"[PDVSA] categorically denies information reflected in certain international media regarding a supposed reduction in operations by services firm Schlumberger, Ltd," the state oil company said in a public statement.

The reported scale-back by Schlumberger comes as a blow to efforts by oil-rich Venezuela to maintain production levels and secure adequate revenue in the midst of a 60% fall in international prices since 2014.

In recent months, Caracas has enacted a series of measures to promote non-oil exports in a bid to diversify the heavily petroleum-dependent economy.

On Wednesday, it was announced that Venezuela will set up a mixed public-private firm to begin exporting marble to various Caribbean islands at a rate of 60 tons per month.

According to Vargas state legislator José Valera, the northern coastal state has sufficient reserves of marble to last thirty years, a natural endowment which could make it "one of the new spaces for the development of an alternative economy".

The lawmaker praised the decision by the national government to reduce 60% of administrative requirements for exporters, including the suspension of the special exporters license for all of 2016.

The move follows similar initiatives to open the country to activities linked to raw material extraction, such as gold, coal, and diamonds.