Russia-Saudi plans for Super-OPEC could reshape global oil order

When the group overseeing the so-called OPEC+ deal met last night, proceedings were dominated by two nations: Saudi Arabia and Russia. It was probably a snapshot of the oil market’s future.

Beyond the drama of this week’s diplomatic efforts to agree to an increase in oil production, the more significant longer-term development may be moves to make Russia’s role in managing global supply permanent, bringing together the two largest oil exporters.

Russia isn’t a member of OPEC, but for the last two years has led a group of countries outside the group lending support to the cartel, creating a coalition of 24 producers that’s been dubbed OPEC+.

Russian Oil Minister Alexander Novak said in a speech Wednesday that “we need to build upon our successful co-operation model and institutionalize its success through a broader and more permanent strategically focused framework.” His Saudi counterpart Khalid Al-Falih echoed those comments.

The countries are considering inviting all 24 countries to join a permanent body with its own constitution and secretariat, according to people familiar with matter, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private. It would mark a seismic shift in oil’s world order and while it probably won’t supplant OPEC in the short term it would create a rival for the organization that’s sought to manage supply for six decades.

It’s possible the new body would have a different structure to OPEC’s principle of one member, one vote. Larger producers such as Saudi Arabia and Russia might be given more weight in the new body, the people said.

The wider group risks turning into little more than a talking shop, not least because, unlike OPEC, Russia has traditionally seen supply management as a tactic rather than a strategy, to be deployed in cases of extreme market imbalance.

In 2008, Russia helped found the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, something many expected to become an OPEC-style organization for the global gas market. Despite having a permanent secretariat and annual meetings, it’s had little impact on supply.

The super-OPEC grouping might merely formalize current relationships. Falih and Novak have formed a close working relationship over the past two years, one that often seems to bypass OPEC’s more traditional decision-making process. They often brief the media together on policy, outside the cycle of formal meetings.

Saudi Arabia and Russia together pump about 21 million barrels a day — or one fifth of global supply. Without Saudi Arabia, the rest of OPEC produces about 20 million barrels, International Energy Agency data show.

For Saudi Arabia, the new group would have the advantage of diminishing the influence of Iran, the kingdom’s main rival in the Middle East. At this week’s meeting, Iran has threatened to block Saudi Arabia’s plan to increase output, something it can do under the current rules even if every other member of the group backs the proposal.


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