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Unable to export its natural gas, Uzbekistan tries using it itself

UZBEKISTAN, AS ANY pub-quiz regular can attest, is doubly landlocked: landlocked itself, and surrounded by landlocked countries. That is unfortunate, given that one of its main exports, natural gas, is increasingly traded by sea. What is more, the trend to liquefy gas and ship it around the world in giant tankers has given importers much more choice about where to buy. The result has been more competition, lower prices and thus a much more difficult market for countries like Uzbekistan that export their gas the old-fashioned way, by pipeline. As if to underline the idea that exporting gas by pipeline was an unreliable way to earn a living, China cut its imports of Uzbek gas by two-thirds this year amid the coronavirus-induced economic slowdown, and Russia shut them off altogether. Those two countries sucked up 80% of Uzbekistan’s $2.3bn of gas exports last year, leaving Uzbekistan with lots of gas it has no way of selling.

The government’s solution is to consume the gas itself. Near the industrial city of Qarshi, it is pouring $3.6bn into a plant that will turn Uzbekistan’s gas into petrol and other liquid fuels, a process called gas-to-liquids. It is also encouraging the construction of factories that use gas as a feedstock to make plastics and other petrochemicals. A Chinese-owned PVC factory, for instance, opened late last year...

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