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OPEC might not reduce production if prices hold

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CARACAS, Venezuela — The secretary-general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries reiterated in several press reports over the weekend the group won't cut oil production next month if prices stay near current levels.

"If we see the price (of the OPEC basket) continues to hover around $25 a barrel . . . if the average of the basket is maintained, there wouldn't be any additional cuts at the March meeting and only an extraordinary ministers meeting will be called," Ali Rodriguez told Venezuela's local daily El Nacional Saturday. He made the same comments to another daily, El Universal.

Rodriguez, who was Venezuela's oil minister before being named OPEC Secretary-General, is visiting Venezuela and will return to Vienna Wednesday.

Earlier last week, Rodriguez told Venezuela's RadioUnion there was almost "a conviction" among OPEC members to cut its oil production when ministers meet next month.

But upon arriving in Caracas, Rodriguez said that with current prices, OPEC would leave the group's quota unchanged.

The value of OPEC's basket of seven crude oils averaged $24.48 a barrel Thursday, the most recent day for which figures were available.

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez said late last week, upon returning from visits to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, that OPEC has consensus not to let oil prices fall.

OPEC ministers meet March 17 in Vienna to decide whether to further cut production this year. The 11-member cartel sliced output by 1.5 million barrels a day last month to avoid a price crash.

Rodriguez has suggested in the past that the group could slash another 1 million barrels a day from the market.