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Brazil slashes Bolivian gas imports

The cuts could cost Bolivia $600 million in losses by April.

Brazil plans to shutter power plants that run on natural gas from Bolivia, slashing the need for imports from its neighbor amid an ongoing dispute over energy supplies, a top energy official said Friday.

Latin America's largest country will instead rely on hydropower from dozens of dams, which will be flooded through the end of the rainy season in late April, Energy Minister Edison Lobao said.

Brazil has slashed imports of Bolivian gas by one-third to 19 million cubic meters a day in recent weeks. The cuts could cost Bolivia $600 million in losses by April, Bolivian presidential spokesman Ivan Canelas said Wednesday.

"We wouldn't do anything to intentionally hurt Bolivia, but if we don't need the gas, we can't harm Brazil by paying for something we don't consume," Lobao said.

A new contract signed by both countries' presidents in February 2007 requires Brazil to buy between 19 million and 31 million cubic meters of gas per day, at a price of $8 per million Btu.

Brazil is widely expected to seek price cuts in coming months.

President Evo Morales nationalized Bolivia's energy industry in 2006, requiring foreign oil companies including Brazil's state-run Petroleo Brasileiro to forfeit majority stakes they'd bought in Bolivian oil and gas fields and refineries.

Brazil and Argentina have squabbled over access to Bolivian energy supplies, which both countries needed to fuel their rapidly growing economies during winter, when demand peaked.

But the global crisis has since slowed growth in both nations, and Brazil has developed domestic supplies of oil and alternative energy.

Bolivia, South America's poorest nation, exported $2 billion worth of natural gas in 2007, its biggest export. Brazil is Bolivia's top trading partner and main buyer of its gas.

Lobao said Bolivian officials, who met Friday with Brazilian counterparts, were unlikely to persuade Brazil to reconsider its decision. Bolivians are now in talks to sell Argentina some of the gas Brazil has declined to import.

Heavy rains have pummeled Brazil since November, flooding dams to full capacity but also killing more than 150 people and leaving thousands homeless.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/bolivia/090109/brazil-slashes-bolivian-gas-imports