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Issue 29. Leases to use or exploit natural resources

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Description of the issue
Part 5 of chapter 17 [of the 2008 SNA] deals with the treatment of licences and permits to use a natural resource. Because the treatment for individual resources was developed independently there are some inconsistent treatments recommended.

In the case of a natural resource that has an infinite life and whose use in production does not affect the nature or value of the asset, the owner may allow the resource to be used for an extended period of time in such a way that, in effect, the user controls the use of the resource during this time with little if any intervention from the legal owner. In the case of land, the SNA recommends that the agreement between the owner and the user constitutes a sale of the land. In the case of a lease of the radio spectrum, the SNA recommends that the permission to use the spectrum does not change the ownership of the spectrum but constitutes a non-produced asset under the heading contracts, leases and licences. In the case of permission to use the atmosphere or a water body as an environmental sink, the SNA recommends that the payment be treated as a tax.

In the case of a natural resource that is subject to replenishment and which can be used indefinitely providing the use is restricted and the owner extends or withholds permission to continued use of the asset from one year to the next, payments by the user to the owner are recorded as rent. No adjustment is made to the value of rent recorded as to whether the use is in fact sustainable or not. If it were not sustainable, part of the payment should be seen as being compensation for the non-sustainable use.

In the case of a natural resource that is not capable of replenishment on a human time-scale and the use in production eventually exhausts it, the owner may permit the resource to be used to extinction. In this case the SNA recommends that economic ownership of the natural resource remains with the lessor while the lessee pays royalties recorded as rent. Only the lessee and not the lessor undertakes production. This means that the reduction in the value of capital due to production is recorded in the balance sheet of the owner as an other change in volume of assets. The link between the rundown in the value of the assets and its use in production is lost. As in the previous case, the fact that part of the rent paid is compensation for the reduction in the value of the asset is not recognized.
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