MOSCOW, March 1 (Reuters) - Russia's oil pipeline monopoly Transneft on Thursday downplayed prospects for a lower tariff on Azeri oil shipments via the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline, a factor that could have encouraged more Urals crude exports from the Black Sea outlet.
Earlier this week, Azerbaijan's industry and energy minister said that Azeri state energy company SOCAR and Transneft have agreed on a new, more flexible transit policy for Azerbaijan's oil exports via Russia, which envisages lower tariffs on shipments of big volumes of oil.
But Transneft said tariff cuts were not in prospect.
"We have (only) agreed that they would pump oil of third parties (via the pipeline). But we don't see grounds for existing tariffs cuts," Transneft's spokesman Igor Dyomin said.
Azerbaijan has used the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline for its oil exports since 1997 along with four other ports: Supsa, Batumi and Kulevi in Georgia and Ceyhan in Turkey.
At Novorossiisk, Azeri oil is sold as Urals blend. One possible third party supplier is Turkmenistan.
Azerbaijan's industry and energy minister Natik Aliyev said a more flexible policy had been agreed.
"We agreed with Transneft to apply a more flexible tariff policy, which envisages lower tariffs on shipments of big volumes of oil, instead of a single tariff of $15.67 per tonne," Aliyev told reporters on Wednesday.
SOCAR and the Azeri ministry declined immediate comments.
Azerbaijan's oil exports via Russia fell to 1.99 million tonnes in 2011, down from 2.24 million tonnes in 2010.
The decline was mainly caused by an increase in oil supplies to Azeri refineries due to rising domestic consumption of oil products and repair works at one of the sections of the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline.
SOCAR said in October last year crude shipments via Russia, which make up a relatively small part of total Azeri exports, would fall to 1.7 million tonnes in 2012.
An industry source told Reuters that Azerbaijan had planned to ship oil from neighbouring Turkmenistan via the pipeline. Dyomin said that Transneft has not heard of such plans yet. (Reporting by Olesya Astakhova in Moscow; additional reporting by Lada Yevgrashina in Baku; writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; editing by Keiron Henderson)