- - Monday, January 2, 2012


Venezuela to pay company only $255M

CARACAS — Venezuela said Monday it has successfully defended itself in an international arbitration case brought by Exxon Mobil Corp. and will need to pay only $255 million of the more than $900 million awarded to the company.

State oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, said debts and court action reduce what it owes under the more than $907 million ruling by the International Chamber of Commerce.

It said Exxon Mobil had previously used international courts to freeze $300 million in Venezuela’s U.S. accounts and that the company also has a debt of $191 million relating to financing of an oil project in the country, as well as $160 million that the arbitration tribunal said was due to PDVSA.

PDVSA called it a “successful defense” and said Exxon Mobil had initially demanded about $12 billion in compensation.

There was no immediate response from the Irving, Texas-based oil company. It confirmed the decision Sunday, saying the arbitration body found that PDVSA “does have a contractual liability to Exxon Mobil.”

Exxon Mobil sought arbitration after President Hugo Chavez’s government nationalized an oil project in the country in 2007.

PDVSA said that Exxon Mobil’s compensation demands had been “completely exaggerated.”

“After four years of arbitration, the real amount determined by the ICC tribunal indeed represents less than the exorbitant sum initially demanded,” PDVSA said.

Exxon Mobil still has another arbitration case pending against Venezuela before the World Bank-affiliated International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes.


Government sees record trade levels during 2011

BRASILIA — Brazil’s government says the nation had a record level of exports, imports and surplus in 2011.

The Trade Ministry says on its website that exports hit $256 billion in 2011. That easily beats the record of $202 billion set in 2010.

Brazil had imports of $226 billion, giving the nation an annual trade surplus of $30 billion.

High commodity prices and strong demand from China are the reasons for Brazil’s record figures, despite a financial crisis that’s hurting Europe and the U.S.

Trade Ministry official Alessandro Teixeira forecasts Brazil will set trade records again this year on the back of Chinese demand.

Brazil is an agricultural superpower and a top exporter of soy, beef, coffee, sugar and other commodities.


Iran’s riyal hits record low

TEHRAN — Iran’s currency has hit a record low to the U.S. dollar, two days after President Obama signed a bill applying penalties against Iran’s central bank as the West looks to pressure Tehran over its nuclear program.

State radio said the exchange rate hovered around 16,800 riyals to the dollar, marking a 10 percent slide compared to Thursday’s rate of 15,200 riyals to the dollar.

The U.S. law signed Saturday includes an amendment barring foreign financial institutions that do business with Iran’s central bank from opening or maintaining correspondent operations in the United States.

The sanctions are to pressure Iran over a nuclear enrichment program the West maintains is aimed at making a weapon. Iran says its program is purely peaceful.


Scientists develop drought-tolerant alfalfa

ALBUQUERQUE — Scientists in New Mexico are working to develop more drought-tolerant varieties of alfalfa.

A breakthrough would be welcome news to farmers and ranchers who are paying up to twice as much for hay now as they did a year ago.

Hay, including alfalfa, has been in short supply because of a drought in the Southwest.

New Mexico State University professor Ian Ray says two-thirds of hay produced in the U.S. is grown in drought-prone areas of the Great Plains or the western U.S.

Mr. Ray and his team have identified a series of DNA markers on alfalfa chromosomes they believe play a key role in producing more alfalfa with less water. They are now working to breed those characteristics into alfalfa cultivars typically grown in New Mexico.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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