Iraqi oil exports under UN supervision were suspended for a 12th day on Tuesday over Baghdad's efforts to make clients pay a surcharge outside the control of the United Nations, industry sources said.
"Loading of Iraqi crude has not resumed yet" from the Gulf port of Mina al-Bakr, said an oil expert close to an Asian client of Iraqi crude.
A day after Iraq accepted a new UN agreement for exports, the flow of crude via the Turkish terminal of Ceyhan - the other outlet for Iraq's exports - had also not resumed, said a spokeswoman for the Turkish state oil company Botas.
She said Iraq was continuing to pump oil into storage tanks at Ceyhan, but the crude was going no further. "At the current rate of flow, the tanks will be full in two days, but Iraq could resume its exports immediately," she said, although Botas had no knowledge of any schedule for tankers loading Iraqi oil from the terminal.
A western diplomat posted in the Gulf said the "business of a resumption of exports has turned into a political matter since Monday", when Iraq accepted another six months of the UN oil-for-food programme.
Industry sources said a new row arose over an Iraqi demand for its clients to pay a surcharge of 40 cents per barrel, as part of Baghdad's effort to regain partial control of its oil revenues.
The surcharge "poses no problem in principle" for the Asian firm, said the oil expert, although it would amount to a violation of the UN sanctions regime in force since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The oil-for-food program launched in December 1996 allows Iraq to export crude in sixth-monthly phases to finance imports of essential goods for its 22-million population.
An eighth phase ran out last week but liftings were suspended on December 1 in a dispute over pricing. The United Nations said Friday its oil overseers had resolved the dispute after the UN Security Council approved a renewal on December 5.
The MEES (Middle East Economic Survey) said several tankers were waiting at Mina al-Bakr for a resumption of exports. But it also reported that although the United Nations blocked Iraq's original pricing formula that allowed for a 50 cent per barrel surcharge, Baghdad was likely to continue to benefit from unofficial payments.
Several companies already started in October and November to pay at least 10 cents per barrel directly to Iraq, outside the UN-controlled escrow account for Iraqi oil revenues, according to the industry newsletter.
Despite the absence of Iraqi oil from the world market, prices drifted slightly lower on Tuesday as market players cashed in profits racked up during a rally in the previous session.
In London, a barrel of Brent North Sea crude for earliest delivery in January weakened to $27.41 from $27.54 at the close on Monday. — (AFP)
© Agence France Presse
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )