OPEC picks Kuwait’s Al-Ghais as next top diplomat
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OPEC picks Kuwait’s Al-Ghais as next top diplomat

OPEC picks Kuwait’s Al-Ghais as next top diplomat

Haitham al-Ghais – whose three-decade oil industry career includes stints in Beijing and London – will become the group’s secretary-general in August

OPEC chose veteran Kuwaiti oil executive Haitham al-Ghais to become the organization’s top diplomat this summer, as the group and its allies navigate a delicate recovery from the pandemic.

Al-Ghais – a multilingual technocrat whose three-decade oil industry career includes stints in Beijing and London – will become the group’s secretary-general in August, taking over from Mohammad Barkindo, according to delegates at Monday’s Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries meeting.

His appointment comes at time when OPEC and its partners tread a narrow path, seeking to satisfy the recovery in oil consumption without tipping markets back into oversupply. The OPEC+ coalition is expected to approve another modest resumption of supplies when it meets on Tuesday.

“He knows OPEC inside and out,” said Johannes Benigni, chairman of consultant JBC Energy Group in Vienna. “At the same time, he knows the ins and outs of the market. He’s very smart and a good analyst.”

While the secretaries-general don’t set OPEC production policy, they do act as the group’s public face — and as an intermediary seeking compromise between often-fractious members.

It’s a sensitive task now as oil’s return to $80 a barrel stirs fears over inflation in major consumers like the US – where lawmakers occasionally invoke threats of anti-competition legislation – and as climate change accelerates a transition away from fossil fuels.

Group tensions

Internal tensions within the group also need to be managed. The diplomatic balancing act is a mission to which Al-Ghais brings a number of strengths.

Having previously served as a diplomat, he subsequently held a number of positions at state-run Kuwait Petroleum Corp., most recently as deputy managing director for international marketing. Al-Ghais also acted as the country’s liaison to OPEC from 2017 until last year.

The appointment of a Kuwaiti as OPEC chief marks a shift for the group, which has typically awarded the post to candidates from smaller producers to offset the concentration held by its Gulf heavyweights.

As incumbent secretary-general, Barkindo steps down in July after completing the full six years permitted by the cartel’s rules, having played a pivotal role in the creation of OPEC+ in late 2016.

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