SEOUL (Reuters) - Iran has unveiled details for long-awaited foreign cooperation contracts which it hopes will attract oil buyers and investors to modernise its ageing infrastructure, including offers to take part in joint ventures to extract its huge reserves.
The United Nations endorsed a deal in July to end years of economic sanctions on the Islamic republic over its nuclear programme, although a removal of those sanctions still requires U.S.-Congressional approval.
Iran, a member of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), has some of the world’s biggest oil and gas reserves, and officials have identified around four dozen projects worth $185 billion it hopes to develop by 2020.
Pre-sanctions agreements between Iran and foreign energy firms offered partners oil and gas revenue payments in return for cash investment in so-called buyback contracts. But foreigners were barred from joint ventures or from extracting themselves, making these contracts unpopular with investors.
Iranian officials say that’s about to change.
“Iran is going to apply a new version of oil contract model in order to make it more attractive for foreign investors, with similar terms to a PSA (production sharing agreement),” said Shahrouz Abolhosseini, petroleum products pricing manager at National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), during a business meeting in the South Korean capital on Wednesday.
“NIOC ... aims to embark on joint ventures with foreign investors and international companies in the oil and gas industry,” he added.
Also in Seoul, Ali A. Arshi, adviser to the deputy minister for international affairs and commerce at Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum, said the main advantage of the new contracts over the previous buybacks would be more contractual flexibility. He did not elaborate.
Iran’s oil ministry said in August it would officially present the new contracts at a conference in London in December.
Tehran’s move is a latest attempt to attract buyers beyond offering outright oil discounts, which have included offers of extended credit and free cost of shipping.
“What we can expect from Iran is being creative in the sense that when they approach potential clients they will tie the sale of Iranian crude or Iranian (refined) products to future collaboration,” said Bijan Khajehpour, managing partner at Atieh International, which advises companies on investing in Iran.
Khajehpour said there were discussions to favour returning oil buyers with direct investment or joint venture opportunities in Iran.
Last month, Woo Tae-hee, South Korea’s deputy trade minister, was part of a delegation to Iran seeking energy and construction deals, and said Seoul would consider increasing its oil imports from Iran once sanctions are lifted.
Iran exported almost 3 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude at its peak before Western sanctions over its alleged ambitions to build a nuclear bomb saw shipments collapse to about 1 million bpd over the last 2-1/2 years.
Tehran hopes to add 500,000 bpd to production within two months of easing sanctions, and as much as 1 million bpd in 6-7 months.
Many sellers, especially within OPEC - which has ruled out production cuts to defend market share rather than ensure higher prices - have heavily discounted their oil to attract buyers, who can increasingly pick the best offers as there is more oil on offer than needed.
Tehran reduced the price of its flagship crude to the lowest in three years this week, but Iranian officials have ruled out further discounts, for now.
It “is not our policy to make (more) discounts,” said Arshi.
Reporting by Meeyoung Cho; Editing by Henning Gloystein and Ian Geoghegan