* Potash price hit by collapse of Uralkali JV
* Indian buyers have launched price talks
* Belarus prepared to work with Uralkali “in any format”
MINSK, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Belarus is not willing to lower its potash prices as a cut would cause losses, a top Belarussian official said on Wednesday in comments that raised the chance of reviving a sales cartel with Russia.
Russia’s Uralkali pulled out of a potash trading agreement with Belarus in July, in a move that could push potash prices down 25 percent, a major headache for Belarus for whom the soil ingredient accounts for 12 percent of state revenue.
Buyers are expected to seek lower prices for new deals and Indian officials told Reuters earlier in September that Belarussian suppliers had agreed to cut prices on existing contracts.
“(We) are not prepared (to lower prices). Any decrease would mean a loss,” First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko told reporters in Minsk.
Belarus was willing to cooperate with Uralkali in the future “in any format”, he said, when asked if the country would consider forming a new joint venture with the Russian firm. “Our cooperation (with Uralkali) was a positive experience.”
The statements signal a softening of Belarus’s stance towards Uralkali, whose chief executive Vladislav Baumgertner is currently imprisoned in Minsk and has been charged with abuse of power. If convicted he faces up to 10 years in jail.
Reports that Uralkali’s top shareholder Suleiman Kerimov is selling his stake are likely to have been welcomed by the former Soviet state, with commentators suggesting a deal would secure the release of Baumgertner and a new Belarussian-Uralkali joint venture.
The joint venture with Uralkali, Belarusian Potash Co, alongside North American producer group Canpotex supplied nearly seven in every 10 tonnes of potash that were globally traded.