Tuesday, July 14, 2009

lagos, work, and chinese renewables

Lot of random stuff on my mind and some housecleaning and updating to do...so here it goes.

Flew back from Lagos sunday night. Jess and I had a 4:45 flight but because of traffic our driver didn't pick us up until 3:10. As I mentioned earlier it takes 2 hours to get ANYWHERE in Lagos so Jess and I were sure we would miss check in and the flight. Our driver drove like the proverbial bat out of hell...not sure how many people he cut off or how he managed to lay on the horn for an hour straight, but he got us to the airport at 4:05, just in time for jess and I to make check in and board. We gave him and N8,000 tip for the weekend and for getting us to the airport.

While the trip was pleasant overall, I don't really ever plan on spending a lot of time in Lagos again. The nightlife was cool, but there are only so many smoky lounges playing loud dancehall before you've seen a decent bit of what that particular scene has to offer. But the traffic, the overwhelming poverty, the high prices, the filth in the streets...it's, quite honestly, a depressing place to be. It felt good to be back in Cross River State.

Progress on the professor workshop and stakeholder workshop/discussion is going at a decent clip. Aus came to me yesterday asking about plans for the workshop and I gave him a very rough sketch of what we have planned. A 4-6 hour conference talking about the structure of our proposed DMO etc...and that I figured we could have a 2 hour session in the morning, lunch, then a 2 or 3 hour session in the afternoon with time for additional discussion. Well, he informs me that we can't provide lunch because it is not in the budget so he suggested blocking out lunch time and telling people to go get food and then split up and have them come back in the later day. I tried to explain that I didn't think it was fair to the participants nor very polite, really, but he continued to tell me we don't have budgeting room and he has to submit the budget on wednesday so to make something happen. Well, I discussed it with Jess this morning who kindly informed me that she's the one who actually writes up the budget and that because the workshop is next month, our monthly wire has yet to be determined. So it is all very possible to budget for a lunch, especially considering the total price for it would be around 250 dollars or so. So, I don't know what to make of it...but I'm more than a bit upset. Little shit like this just makes my working day unnecessarily tedious. So, I'm not gonna worry about Aus and just do what I was gonna do.

Also, half of my proposed work is now officially shelved. I've been working on organizing the mounds of documents we have into a logical document and folder tree, eventually to be used in a web portal where our stakeholders can go and find necessary information. The ultimate goal is to use the info in this portal to make a website where travel agents and customers could order tourist packages and the like. Well, the original document portal idea has been shelved by our boss due to connectivity issues in the country. So, my jobs now entail getting this workshop finalized and data entry...I've only got 2 and a half weeks left in country, but I am starting to feel increasingly useless. And, honestly, I have more than enough stuff back in the states to worry about that I hate feeling like I'm spinning my wheels, but it is what it is. I'll finish what I can.

Onto happier things...like trade disputes and renewable energy!! Like any good planner, I'm big into thinking about energy and how to better use renewables. The times has an article looking at the Chinese starting to maneuver itself as a leader in renewable energy. Now, overall, I think this is a good thing. China is, along with the US, a global leader in carbon emissions, primarily from their use of massive, dirty coal-powered power plants. So, any serious consideration of renewables is fantastic news, environmentally. But what pisses me off is that, once again, China is playing dirty pool. They were allowed into the WTO in 2001 but they have yet to sign key provisions regarding government provision. Because many of the leading energy companies submitting bids for the increased investment in renewables in the country are, in fact, government owned, they've gotten blatant deferential treatment, so much so that zero foreign companies won any bids to produce wind turbines on large projects. Of course, the government came up with a mutltitude of reasons to reject these bids, but I find it hard to believe that many European wind companies, that have been in business for decades and have gone out of their way to build plants in China in order to do business there, were totally incapable of meeting the bid requirements set by the government.

I'm not an ardent free trader, but being a student of neoclassical economics, this strikes me as not just unfair but poor policy. For one, Chinese wind turbine quality, as noted in the article, is not that great compared to foreign made turbines, because they spend so much time being repaired. In addition, the national policy to encourage utilities to use renewable power does not have a requirement for power generation, so all utilities have to do is put up some shitty wind turbines, give the estimated amount of power they should be producing and then continue on as they always have. So, it's a double blow for the use of renewables.

On the other end, I really wonder when other countries will finally stand up to China. Actions like this require they be kicked out of the WTO or the WTO should demand they respect all of the rules that every other member does. Either that, or countries should follow suit. In the long run, everyone so aggressively protecting their own industries will start to lose out, or so economic theory claims. Either way, the result will be higher prices for energy all around. I don't have a major issue with China being out for China. What do I have issue with is China claiming to be a member of these large institutions like the WTO and then deliberately subverting them by ignoring the rules and making it hard for legitimte business to be conducted. If you want to only have it be domestic, fine, but stop lying to these foreign firms so you can grab technology and then bounce. Also, I need foreign firms to stop doing business there. They know the Chinese play dirty. They always have. But the savings on labor and the potential size of the market are too valuable to ignore. China has played this game very well for the past 30 years and I don't see them changing, but it really irks me that they always have to be so hamfisted and blatantly dishonest, and it pisses me off that foreign companies continue to do business there because it's cheaper, even though many of them screwed in the long run. I don't want to advocate for a trade war, especially in the midst of a global recession, but at some point eithe the US or the EU is going to have to take a hard line on these practices.

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