I knew there was a reason I liked you... my name is Pete as well!
The reason I always suggest Paul Li as Production/Commerce Minister is because he is such a hyperactive manager. While other ministers sit on their hands and might get around to half-heartedly following your orders, Paul jumps on them like a starving dog on a bone. This is a good thing most of the time even when no orders are given, but he can go overboard. So like any AI minister, tis best to keep an eye on him. He was probably trying to lower efficiency investments to lower product costs and be able to perform the export surplus orders. As you have figured out, the efficiency investment is better used to cover a supply shortage than to increase exportable tonnage. I find that 60%-80% is plenty in most cases, and too much even when natural supply is plentiful.
1) If I invest in upgrading a plant from, say, 10% to 100% efficiency, does that plant still employ the same amount of people after the upgrade as before or is there an increase?
Come to think of it, I don't know the answer to this one. On one hand, the factory might well be upgraded in size, leading to more employees. On the other, you might just have more people actually working at previously nonfunctional work stations, instead of pushing brooms or playing cards beside broken equipment or joking with their mates in the break room. Regardless of the effect on employment levels, I will start upgrading factories in the highest supply levels. This allows me to shut down crappier supplied factories and save maintenance costs.
2) In a scenario with only two opponents, do I only trade with those opponents? My understanding was that there was a broader "WM" that existed outside of the scenario. I'm now not so sure. The reason being that I'm producing Uranium at well below the WM price, but there are no buyers.
This is another one I am fuzzy on. It has been quite a while since I played a scenario smaller than North America, so I am used to quite a few individual countries being available to buy my exports. If I remember correctly, the WM is a supply only trade partner, and actual countries are the only ones to buy stuff. Heck, it may just be that the WM has too much stock and isn't buying Uranium at the moment.
3) Given that I had actually aimed to create large goods surpluses (to make export dollars) is there actually anything wrong with this per se, or is it only in light of low unemployment and high GDP environment? You mention 110-120% surpluses are what you aim for, is this for the same reason?
The 110%-120% mark I mentioned was sort of a starting place. It leaves enough surplus to sell some, or for your minister to perhaps drop the domestic price and sell more at home, without creating a shortage. The main goal was to turn the power off on as many facilities as possible until the export market clears up and settles down. There is nothing wrong with creating a major surplus intended for export, if the market is right for it. Before I invest towards that goal, I like to make sure that some other country isn't supplying arseloads of the same thing at 1/2 the price I can afford to sell it at. Hence the short period of "hide and watch" before charting my industrial course. Sort of like losing extra weight and getting in decent general shape before starting serious training at a specific sport.
If my price is right for export, I'll reactivate some of the more marginal facilities and boost export production.
Trust me, you are not being a pain. Actually I haven't had the time to play lately and chatting about it is a decent substitute. As you mentioned, this game is pretty unique in that there is no "right way" to play it. Don't feel like the lone ranger when it comes to the economy frustrating your efforts. I am passing along what I know, but the closest thing to a hard and fast rule in this game is only right "most" of the time!
I still have plenty of, "What the Hell!!?!?!" moments. As you are learning, each scenario, heck each country in each scenario, has it's own optimum methods, so just keep fiddling around and you will find the tactics that suit you best (and how to change them when they don't work in another country! lol).
Be well and get rich!