OPEC ministers down to the wire on production hike decision
OPEC oil ministers were due to meet in full session Sunday for a crunch meeting to decide on a production hike of at least 500,000 barrels a day to ease soaring prices, which have sparked worldwide concern.
Members of the 11-member cartel have been holding bilateral talks informally in Vienna since Friday to try to hammer out an accord, watched closely by Western governments anxious for a fall in prices.
But the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is determined to rebuff pressure, hitting out at governments for levying huge taxes on oil products, but then blaming OPEC when consumers protest.
"The pressure putting all the blame on OPEC is misguided and wrong," OPEC heavyweight Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Nuaimi told AFP in an interview ahead of the Sunday meeting.
"Instead of putting pressure on OPEC, which is already taking action on its own to moderate prices, different European governments should re-examine the tax structure on fuels in their countries," he added.
The European Union, where protests have flared in France and more recently Britain over spiraling oil prices, took the rare step of issuing a blunt call to the OPEC ministers Saturday, on the eve of their meeting.
"Ministers call on OPEC to implement measures to ensure that market supplies are better adapted to the global economic situation," said a statement issued by EU finance ministers meeting in Versailles, France.
Formal calls for OPEC to act decisively also came last week from US President Bill Clinton, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the APEC grouping of Asia-Pacific region countries.
Most OPEC ministers appear to be happy with at least a 500,000 barrel-a-day increase, as agreed under a price-band mechanism earlier this year.
But analysts believe 500,000 barrels a day will not be enough to reverse the upward trend of prices, which have reached 10-year highs above 35 dollars (40 euros) a barrel last week.
Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil producer and the only OPEC member with any substantial spare capacity, is leading calls for production hikes of more than half a million barrels.
Others are not so sure, notably highly oil revenue-dependent OPEC countries with no spare capacity who fear that a big production increase might only benefit Saudi Arabia, to the detriment of others if prices drop.
The growing sense of crisis over oil prices has notably been fed by the protests in France, where demonstrators blockaded oil refineries all last week.
French farmers and truckers lifted oil blockades Saturday, but authorities warned it could be days before supplies return to normal -- while across the Channel in Britain, protests were continuing.
On Saturday, some petrol stations in Britain started running dry as a series of protests over the highest fuel prices in Europe began to bite.
OPEC has already increased production twice this year, moves which had little effect on prices, which have tripled since slumping to under 10 dollars a barrel last year.
Some analysts and even delegates in Vienna were predicting that Sunday's meeting will continue into Monday and possibly beyond as OPEC ministers slug out their differences.
Official sources said an initial informal meeting of most ministers was scheduled in a Vienna hotel for 10:00 a.m. (0800 GMT) on Sunday. No time for the formal meeting to begin was available on the eve of the gathering.—AFP
©--Agence France Press.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)