Ecuador seeks renegotiation of China oil sales, loans

QUITO, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Ecuador is seeking to renegotiate oil deals with Chinese firms to get higher prices for its crude exports and reduce the amount it has to send the Asian giant, the head of state-owned Petroecuador, Byron Ojeda, said on Tuesday.

OPEC member Ecuador has shipped around half of its oil to Chinese firms after a rash of oil-for-loans deals signed under former President Rafael Correa, who touted the deals as a triumph of trade between close allies.

But critics have long said the cash-strapped government’s dependence on loans with increasingly onerous terms has hurt Petroecuador’s competitiveness, damaged transparency in an oil industry that accounts for half of Ecuador’s exports, and distanced the country from other creditors.

Petroecuador has seven contracts with Chinese companies PetroChina Co Ltd, which is state-owned, and Unipec, the trading unit for giant Sinopec Corp. It also has one with Thailand’s PTT International.

The three companies have extended a total of about $5.3 billion to Ecuador under Correa, Ojeda said on Tuesday, adding Petroecuador still had to ship them a total of 500 million barrels of oil through to 2024.

Under new President Lenin Moreno who has broken with his former mentor Correa, Ecuador now will seek to change the formula that calculates sales prices in what Ojeda said were inadequate contracts with China.

They also want to reduce the amount of oil Ecuador has to send to Beijing, to allow it to sell it on the market at a better price.

“The conversations have started,” said Ojeda, adding that in the meantime shipments will proceed as planned.

But Ojeda said Chinese executives had preliminarily said they were not keen on the proposal because it would “revalue” Ecuadorean crude.

Should a contract not be reached, Petroecuador would mull paying debt early or a renegotiation of conditions. Further details were not immediately available. The fine print of the loans is not public.

PetroChina and Sinopec did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Critics say the problem highlights how China’s aggressive quest for foreign oil has left some small, poor countries trapped in unfavorable contracts that preclude them from benefiting from their natural resources.

Petroecuador also will start renegotiating contracts with PTT International, which has similar contracts as its Chinese counterparts, next month. (Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Bill Trott)