Thursday, June 14, 2012

The tussle for OPEC Secretary General’s post

The pre-meeting press scrum (which many scribes rather disingenuously call the ‘g*ng-b*ng’) is over and the Oilholic can tell you the OPEC quota is not the only thing the Hawks and Doves in the cartel are tussling over; it is the post of the new secretary general as well which is adding to the tension.

To being with, rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran have fielded a candidate of their own. The reason given by delegates from both camps is that apart from having the ‘ideal’ candidate, neither country has held the position in just over three decades. Describing the relations between Riyadh and Tehran as tense and rooted in suspicion would be understating the acrimony. Simply put, both hate each others’ guts based on past histories.

Furthermore, the Saudis have put their money where their mouth is by declaring that they will make up for the absence of Iranian crude if sanctions on the latter intensify. Empirical and anecdotal evidence as well as rising Saudi production proves that this is the case to a certain extent. Then again, time and again, irrespective of ‘formal’ OPEC announcements (the latest of which is expected here at 1700CET), Saudis have done whatever they’ve wanted.

The Oilholic is not alone in his belief that neither a Saudi nor an Iranian will occupy the post of Secretary General; but that a compromise candidate in the shape of Ecuador or Iraq would be found. Of the two, Iraq – a founding member of the cartel – would be a better choice.

Even though internal problems persist, its output is rising and it hopes to raise its profile at OPEC; something many here feel it lost in wake of conflict and under the international sanction-laden rule of Saddam Hussein.

Baghdad's man at the table is Thamir Ghadhban, who was was named adviser to Iraq’s interim oil minister before himself becoming the minister in 2004. Pitted against three other candidates, Ghadhban is not a frontrunner – but we’ve been told there isn’t one among the other three either. Since a unanimous deciscion is requirement for the appointment, making predictions over who would win would be tricky.

Since OPEC was former, only one Iraqi has held the office of secretary general - Abdul Rahman al-Bazzaz (1964-65). Another Iraqi - Fadhil al-Chalabi was only an ‘acting’ secretary general from 1983-88.

On a closing note, well there is one more footnote to all of this. While Iraq is a member of OPEC; it does not have a stated individual oil production quota which was suspended in wake of hostilities and later to facilitate a recovery. Negotiations are likely to take place once Iraqi production increases to at least 4 million bpd; this would be by 2015 based on current industry projections.

It’s hectic here, and apart from giving soundbites to the usual suspects, it was a pleasure speaking to Middle Eastern broadcasters, especially MBC. That’s all for the moment folks as we prepare to say goodbye to outgoing Secretary General Abdalla Salem El-Badri! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: OPEC HQ, Vienna, Austria © Gaurav Sharma 2011.

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