* New technology improves access to LNG
* Colombia, Abu Dhabi next in line to import
* Path to becoming importer not smooth, delays loom
By Oleg Vukmanovic and Sarah McFarlane
MILAN/LONDON, June 1 (Reuters) - Cheap gas is tempting out new importers in Africa and South America, helping stave off a deeper price rout hurting producers' bottom lines.
A near 80 percent drop in spot liquefied natural gas (LNG)prices since February 2014 comes as Asian demand falls and competing new supply from the United States and Australia attracts poorer countries for long shut out of the gas trade.
Around 400 million tonnes, or a third more of the fuel, will be produced annually by 2020, according to industry estimates. That opens doors to overlooked regions considered too risky when Asia markets offered the best growth opportunity.
Cheaper than fuel oil and cleaner-burning than coal, LNG suits emerging economies racing to bridge electricity shortfalls and support growth on tight budgets.
New technologies such as floating LNG import terminals have also shaved years off the time needed for new customers to access supply.
Terminal vendors including Golar, Hoegh, Excelerate Energy and BW Gas are thriving.
Market debuts by buyers Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan last year were bright spots in an otherwise depressed trading environment.
"There is an increase of up to 17 million tonnes in LNG supply in 2016 and terminals commissioned in 2015 and 2016 could account for 50 percent of that," independent consultant Andy Flower said.
Aside from new supply flooding global markets, traditional Asian buyers such as Japan are having to hone a new skill - selling - as local demand disappoints.
Colombia is to become the 36th LNG-importing country later this year - a number expected to near 50 by 2025, according to a International Gas Union report.
Japanese trader Mitsui & Co. will supply the country's first cargo to start Hoegh's floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU), trade sources said.
The terminal is due to arrive in Cartagena in Q3 and start commercial operations in Q4, a Hoegh LNG spokeswoman said.
As with most South American importers, Colombian gas needs will be highly sensitive to rainfall given the preponderance of hydroelectric power.
Eventually, up to four cargoes/month could be absorbed.
Abu Dhabi follows.
Its FSRU, provided by Excelerate, should absorb up to four cargoes/month, traders said.
The path to becoming an importer is not always smooth, even with the barriers to entry being reduced, as infrastructure costs fall and timelines shorten.
In Africa the next big market is Ghana where there are two import projects planned. However, while Golar's LNG terminal Tundra has already arrived sources said there are logistical delays causing uncertainty over the time frame of its start up.
Golar and Ghana National Petroleum Corporation did not return requests for comment.
The second project, led by Israel's Quantum Power, looks set to slip far into 2017 or 2018, industry sources said.
Quantum Power did not return requests for comment.
Countries including Jamaica, Malta, Uruguay, Panama, Philippines, Morocco, South Africa, Bangladesh and Hong Kong are next in line to emerge as importers of LNG - gas super cooled for transport on special tankers, escaping the straitjacket of pipeline networks, and warmed back to a gaseous state in an import terminal.
"It won't absorb the glut in supply, volumes are too small, but it helps in energising the market, reducing inefficiencies and encouraging a more regionalised focus," a trader said.
"It's a natural progression for the market." (Editing by William Hardy)