Anything other than a US-China trade deal 'wouldn't make sense,' energy executives say

  • Oil giants and energy companies are increasingly interested in LNG — a form of natural gas chilled to liquid form — as governments around the world mandate using cleaner fuel than coal.
  • A long-running trade conflict between the U.S. and China has battered business and consumer sentiment in recent months — with the LNG export industry particularly vulnerable.

An escalating trade war between the world's two largest economies would be nonsensical, according to executives from the liquefied natural gas (LNG) market.

Oil giants and energy companies are increasingly interested in LNG — a form of natural gas chilled to liquid form — as governments around the world mandate using cleaner fuel than coal.

A long-running trade conflict between the U.S. and China has battered business and consumer sentiment in recent months — with the LNG export industry particularly vulnerable.

When asked whether the ongoing trade dispute was a danger to the LNG market, Lorenzo Simonelli, chief executive of Baker Hughes, a GE company, said: "I don't think so — It's early to say that and I think we're in a long game here."

"It's going to play itself out. There are discussions this week and there will be more discussions. A project doesn't convert in just one month, so there is a long lead time for the actual projects to come into play," Simonelli told CNBC's Steve Sedgwick on Monday.

The total number of U.S. LNG vessels that went to China in 2018 reportedly fell by around 20 percent when compared to the year previous, amid an intensifying trade war between Washington and Beijing.

In total, 24 vessels went to China in 2018 — mostly during the first six months of the year — down from 30 in 2017, Reuters reported earlier this month.

Trade dispute only 'temporary'

The next round of trade talks is scheduled to take place later this week, when Vice-Premier Liu He travels to meet U.S. officials in Washington.

The U.S. has already put tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods — and has threatened duties on double that value of products.

Beijing has responded with tariffs on $110 billion in U.S. goods targeting politically important industries such as agriculture. "We like to believe this issue is temporary," Yao Li, CEO of SIA Energy, told CNBC on Sunday.

A liquefied natural gas tanker sails past a container terminal as it arrives in Yokohama, Japan, May 21, 2018. 
Tomohiro Ohsumi | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A liquefied natural gas tanker sails past a container terminal as it arrives in Yokohama, Japan, May 21, 2018. 

Li said China's demand for LNG was unparalleled. It is the fastest growing consumer of the fuel and became the world's second-biggest buyer of LNG in 2017.

At the same time, she pointed out that the U.S. was the fastest-growing exporter of LNG worldwide.

Presently, Washington is on track to become the world's third-biggest LNG exporter by capacity in 2019.

"So, if these two nations cannot directly trade with each other it wouldn't make sense, it wouldn't be logical."

"Going forward, we think after this trade war issue calms down, the two countries will secure more and more deals together," Li said.

The global LNG market is currently going through of a flurry of fundamental changes, as demand continues to grow and market liquidity increases.

It comes at a time when the race is on for LNG producers to build more export terminals amid soaring demand for the commodity.