Saudi Arabia, Russia seek to finalize oil cuts in G20 talks, want US involved

DUBAI/MOSCOW (Reuters) — Saudi Arabia, Russia and their allies will press Mexico on Friday to join an accord for collective oil production cuts equivalent to 10 percent of global supplies and will push the United States and other producers to remove a further 5 percent.

The plan for cuts top the agenda for Friday’s video conference of energy ministers from the Group of 20 (G20) major economies, after Moscow, Riyadh and others in the OPEC+ group forged a deal in marathon talks on Thursday, only to have it stumble when Mexico balked at the initiative.

Oil prices have plunged to their lowest in two decades as global measures to prevent the coronavirus spreading led to a collapse in demand for crude, at the same time as Moscow and Riyadh’s battle for market share produced a flood of extra oil.

US President Donald Trump had threatened OPEC leader Saudi Arabia, which hosts Friday’s call, with punitive steps if it did not fix the oversupply problems, which has hit budgets of oil producing nations and hammered higher-cost US oil production.

As OPEC+ sought to finalize its deal on cuts after 10 hours of talks via video link, Trump spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

“We had a big talk as to oil production and OPEC and making it so that our industry does well and the oil industry does better than its doing right now,” Trump said.

Mexico, which has long been in a standoff with Washington over Trump’s plan to build a wall between the two countries, cares less about low oil prices because of its unique hedging program, which protects it against price falls.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said it was difficult to make cuts after Mexico had worked hard to lift production, adding that he had offered a cut of 100,000 barrels per day (bpd), a quarter of the amount OPEC+ demanded.

The G20 video conference, which will be joined by US Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, opened shortly after 12 pm GMT, while oil markets in major centers were closed for the extended Easter break.

Brent oil prices ended on Thursday at about US$32, half their level at the end of 2019, and finding little support despite the unprecedented cuts outlined by OPEC+.

US WTI prices closed below $23 per barrel, a level which drives most of the American oil industry into losses.

OPEC+, which groups the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other allies, drew up plans for combined cuts of 10 million bpd in May and June, with calls by OPEC+ officials for US producers and others to cut a further 5 million bpd.

Even if OPEC+ secures agreement to cut the equivalent of 15 percent of global production, it still leaves the market with a huge overhang of crude as demand has plunged by as much as 30 percent.

Patching up differences

Oil importing countries could offer some additional support during Friday’s talks by announcing extra purchases of crude for their strategic reserves, International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol said on Thursday.

But there is only so much importers can buy when the world’s storage capacity on land and at sea is rapidly filling up.

In a statement on Friday, Birol said he hoped the G20 talks would “help restore some much-needed stability to oil markets.”

The crisis in the oil market has pushed Russia and Saudi Arabia to patch up differences after their acrimonious OPEC+ meeting in March where a dispute over how best to tackle falling prices led them to scrap their existing pact on production restraint that had helped balance the market for three years.


The Kremlin said Thursday’s talks showed the desire to coordinate for “the stabilization of the global oil trade situation and the mitigation of the negative impact from volatile oil prices on the global economy.”

But a final push by OPEC+ to close the deal on Thursday was tripped up by Mexico’s refusal to adhere to the plan.

“This whole agreement is hinging on Mexico agreeing to it,” Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told Reuters, adding he hoped it would “see the benefit of this agreement not only for Mexico but for the whole world.

The deal envisaged all members reducing output by 23 percent, with Saudi Arabia and Russia each cutting 2.5 million bpd and Iraq cutting over one million bpd.

Riyadh and Moscow agreed that their cuts would both be calculated from an October 2018 baseline of 11 million bpd, even though Saudi supplies surged to 12.3 million bpd this April.

Under the plans, OPEC+ would ease cuts to eight million bpd from July to December and relax them further to six million bpd between January 2021 and April 2022, OPEC+ documents showed.

Norway and Canada, which are not members of OPEC+, have signaled they could cut production.

UBS said the cuts were still not enough. “We still see Brent falling to $20 per barrel or lower in the second quarter of 2020,” UBS said.


By: Rania El Gamal, Vladimir Soldatkin

Additional reporting by Olesya Astakova in Moscow, Ahmad Ghaddar, Alex Lawler, Shadia Nasralla in London and Florence Tan in Singapore; Writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Edmund Blair

Image: A view shows branded oil tanks at Saudi Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia October 12, 2019. (REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov)

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