Venezuela to keep seeking 'fair' oil price despite OPEC reverse

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela will maintain contact with non-OPEC countries to seek a “fair” global oil price, Foreign Minister Rafael Ramirez said on Thursday, despite OPEC’s refusal to cut output as the cash-strapped South American country had aggressively pushed for.

Saudi Arabia blocked calls from poorer members of the OPEC oil exporter group for production cuts to arrest a slide in global prices, sending benchmark crude plunging to a fresh four-year low.

The decision is a blow to Venezuela’s flailing economy, widely believed to be in recession, and also highlights the country’s diminished influence in OPEC, which it helped found.

Still, Ramirez, until September the country’s oil minister and head of state oil company PDVSA, said Venezuela would continue to defend prices.

“We’re going to be in permanent contact (within OPEC),” he said, speaking from Vienna in an interview with Latin American regional television station Telesur, reiterating that Venezuela deems $100 a barrel a fair price for oil.

“We have agreed to work toward (price) stability and work to maintain contact with non-OPEC countries, which is very important,” he said, referring to conversations with oil producers Mexico and Russia that are not part of the group.

Still, Venezuela has an upward battle to win over the wealthy Gulf states that have made clear they are ready to ride out the weak prices.

The prospect of continued low oil prices, however, is disastrous for Venezuela, which is grappling to pay arrears with private companies ranging from airlines to oil partners, expensive social programs, and major bond payments.

Ramirez’s comments were a far cry from the interview he gave Telesur earlier this month from Iran, one of several stops on his unsuccessful global tour to shore up support for an OPEC cut.

Then, a confident-looking Ramirez, the country’s chief representative at OPEC, told Venezuelans a consensus for an output cut was in the works.

“The issue isn’t even the reduction but rather how much,” he had said.

In the interview on Thursday, Ramirez stressed that the OPEC decision will allow members to continue “monitoring” the market.

Reporting by Caracas newsroom; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer