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The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)


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ENG - The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is a cartel of twelve countries made up of Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. The organization has maintained its headquarters in Vienna since 1965, and hosts regular meetings among the oil ministers of its Member Countries. Indonesia withdrew its membership in OPEC in 2008 after it became a net importer of oil, but stated it would likely return if it became a net exporter again.

According to its statutes, one of the principal goals is the determination of the best means for safeguarding the Organization's interests, individually and collectively. It also pursues ways and means of ensuring the stabilization of prices in international oil markets with a view to eliminating harmful and unnecessary fluctuations; giving due regard at all times to the interests of the producing nations and to the necessity of securing a steady income to the producing countries; an efficient, economic and regular supply of petroleum to consuming nations, and a fair return on their capital to those investing in the petroleum industry. 

OPEC's influence on the market has been widely criticized. Several members of OPEC alarmed the world and triggered high inflation across both the developing and developed world when they used oil embargoes in the 1973 oil crisis. OPEC's ability to control the price of oil has diminished somewhat since then, due to the subsequent discovery and development of large oil reserves in the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea, the opening up of Russia, and market modernization. OPEC nations still account for two-thirds of the world's oil reserves, and, as of March 2008, 35.6% of the world's oil production, affording them considerable control over the global market. The next largest group of producers, members of the OECD and the Post-Soviet states produced only 23.8% and 14.8%, respectively, of the world's total oil production. As early as 2003, concerns that OPEC members had little excess pumping capacity sparked speculation that their influence on crude oil prices would begin to slip.




Venezuela was the first country to move towards the establishment of OPEC by approaching Iran, Gabon, Libya, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in 1949, suggesting that they exchange views and explore avenues for regular and closer communication among petroleum-producing nations. OPEC headquarters in ViennaIn 10-14 September 1960, at the initiative of the Venezuelan Energy and Mines minister Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo and the Saudi Arabian Energy and Mines minister Abdullah al-Tariki, the governments of Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela met in Baghdad to discuss ways to increase the price of the crude oil produced by their respective countries. OPEC was founded in Baghdad, triggered by a 1960 law instituted by American President Dwight Eisenhower that forced quotas on Venezuelan and Persian Gulf oil imports in favor of the Canadian and Mexican oil industries. Eisenhower cited national security, land access to energy supplies, at times of war. When this led to falling prices for oil in these regions, Venezuela's president Romulo Betancourt reacted seeking an alliance with oil producing Arab nations as a preemptive strategy to protect the continuous autonomy and profitability of Venezuela's oil.

As a result, OPEC was founded to unify and coordinate members' petroleum policies. Original OPEC members include Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. Between 1960 and 1975, the organization expanded to include Qatar (1961), Indonesia (1962), Libya (1962), the United Arab Emirates (1967), Algeria (1969), and Nigeria (1971). Ecuador and Gabon were members of OPEC, but Ecuador withdrew on December 31, 1992 because they were unwilling or unable to pay a $2 million membership fee and felt that they needed to produce more oil than they were allowed to under the OPEC quota. Similar concerns prompted Gabon to follow suit in January 1995. Angola joined on the first day of 2007. Russia and Norway joined as non-permanent members in the organisation in early 2000. Indicating that OPEC is not averse to further expansion, Mohammed Barkindo, OPEC's Secretary General, recently asked Sudan to join. Iraq remains a member of OPEC, though Iraqi production has not been a part of any OPEC quota agreements since March 1998.

In May 2008, Indonesia announced that it would leave OPEC when its membership expired at the end of that year, having become a net importer of oil and being unable to meet its production quota. A statement released by OPEC on 10 September 2008 confirmed Indonesia's withdrawal, noting that it "regretfully accepted the wish of Indonesia to suspend its full Membership in the Organization and recorded its hope that the Country would be in a position to rejoin the Organization in the not too distant future."


Responding to war and low prices

Leading up to the 1990-91 Gulf War, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein advocated that OPEC push world oil prices up, thereby helping Iraq, and other member states, service debts. But the division of OPEC countries occasioned by the Iraq-Iran War and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait marked a low point in the cohesion of OPEC. Once supply disruption fears that accompanied these conflicts dissipated, oil prices began to slide dramatically.

After oil prices slumped at around $15 a barrel in the late 1990s, concerted diplomacy, sometimes attributed to Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez, achieved a coordinated scaling back of oil production beginning in 1998. In 2000, Chávez hosted the first summit of heads of state of OPEC in 25 years. The next year, however, the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States, the following invasion of Afghanistan, and 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation prompted a surge in oil prices to levels far higher than those targeted by OPEC during the preceding period. Indonesia withdrew from OPEC to protect its oil supply interests.

On November 19, 2007, global oil prices reacted strongly as OPEC members spoke openly about potentially converting their cash reserves to the euro and away from the US dollar.

On October 10, 2008, oil traded below $85 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In response OPEC has stated that it will meet November 18, 2008, a month ahead of their regularly scheduled meeting to discuss cutting production as oil experiences declining world demand.


Using quotas to help mitigate global warming

As fossil fuel consumption produces large amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, it has been proposed that if OPEC and the IEA established the proper production. quota system, global warming effects could be reduced. While OPEC is indeed drastically reducing its output, this is due to financial reasons, not social ones.





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