Doha, Qatar | – Four oil exporting countries including Russia and Saudi Arabia have agreed to freeze output levels, but say the deal is contingent on other producers joining in — a major sticking point with Iran absent from the talks and determined to raise production.
The Saudi, Russian, Qatari and Venezuelan oil ministers announced the proposal after a previously undisclosed meeting in Doha, their highest-level discussion in months on joint action to tackle a growing oversupply of crude and help prices recover from their lowest levels in more than a decade.
The Saudi Minister, Ali al-Naimi, said freezing production at January levels — near record highs — was an adequate measure and he hoped other producers would adopt the plan.
Venezuela’s Oil Minister Eulogio Del Pino said more talks would take place with Iran and Iraq on Wednesday in Tehran.
“The reason we agreed to a potential freeze of production is simple: it is the beginning of a process which we will assess in the next few months and decide if we need other steps to stabilise and improve the market,” Mr Naimi told reporters.
“We don’t want significant gyrations in prices, we don’t want reduction in supply, we want to meet demand, we want a stable oil price. We have to take a step at a time.”
Oil prices jumped to $US35.55 per barrel after the news about the secret meeting but later pared gains to trade below $US34 as expectations for an immediate deal faded.
Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional arch rival, has pledged to steeply increase output in the coming months as it looks to regain market share lost after years of international sanctions, which were lifted in January following a deal with world powers over its nuclear program.
The fact output from Saudi Arabia and Russia — the world’s two top producers and exporters — is near record highs also makes an agreement tricky since Iran is producing at least 1 million barrels per day below its capacity and pre-sanctions levels.
“We think other producers need to freeze straight away including Iran and Iraq. We believe this step is meant to stabilise the market,” Qatar’s Oil Minister Mohammed al-Sada said.
Iraq also has long said it expected its production to rise further this year but last month it said it was ready reduce its fast-growing output if all OPEC and non-OPEC members agreed.