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Oil rivalry takes Aiyar to China

New Delhi, Feb. 1: Petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar will be visiting Beijing this year in an attempt to find a way out of the increasing competition that Chinese and Indian companies are getting locked into while trying to acquire oil and gas assets overseas.

Talking to journalists over telephone from Houston, Aiyar said he would be visiting Beijing 'later this year' to explore areas of co-operation between India and China so that 'mutual consultations' can take place while bidding for oil assets in third-world countries.

He said a task force headed by Talmiz Ahmed, additional secretary in the ministry of external affairs, will be set up along with senior petroleum ministry officials to do the spade work for evolving a mechanism for mutual consultation with the Chinese when Indian companies go in for bidding in third-world countries.

China has been the main competitor for ONGC-Videsh (OVL) as it is also interested in most of the assets which are within the affordable range of the Indian company. The Chinese have, on occasions, aggressively outbid OVL even at the cost of getting lower returns for themselves.

China and India are joint partners along with Petronas of Malaysia in Sudan. However, the Chinese had opposed OVL's entry into the Greater Nile project and it was a lot of government-to-government interaction with the friendly country that had enabled India to get a stake in the project. China had also managed to prevent India from acquiring an oil block in Angola by offering much better terms.

Aiyar was upbeat on the NELP-5 roadshow in Houston and said representatives of major companies such as Exxon-Mobil, Chevron Texaco and Unocal had come to attend the presentation on oil and gas blocks that are being offered. There were several mid-size companies such as Trade Winds, Woodside and Business Fundamentals that also came for the roadshow, he added.

He has invited the new US energy secretary, who will take office soon, to visit New Delhi.

Aiyar told the oil companies' representatives that investors in the fifth round of NELP will have time-bound approvals, whereby the operator would be able to initiate work by January 1, 2006.

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