Saudi urges oil producers to comply with output cuts

New energy minister tells producers to ‘live up to its commitments’ in attempt to stabilise slumping market.

ABU DHABI - OPEC agreed on Thursday to trim oil output by asking over-producing members Iraq and Nigeria to bring production in line with their targets as the group strives to prevent a glut amid soaring US production and a slowing global economy.

OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia had earlier on Thursday led calls for oil producers to comply with output cuts to stabilise the slumping oil market, while a gloomy new forecast blamed US-China trade tensions for depressed demand.

Oil prices have dropped below $60 per barrel in recent weeks from their 2019 peaks of $75 as fears of a global recession outweigh concerns about falling supply from sanctions-hit Iran and Venezuela.

Oil prices tumbled more than 2% on Wednesday after a report that US President Donald Trump was considering easing sanctions on Iran, which could boost global crude supply at a time of lingering worries about energy demand.

Iraq has been raising its production and exports steeply in recent years, while Iran's exports have collapsed over the past year because of the sanctions. 

A market monitoring committee formed by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, a grouping known as OPEC+, met on Thursday in Abu Dhabi ahead of their policy discussions in Vienna in December.

OPEC+ has overcomplied on average with its agreed cut of 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) as Iranian and Venezuelan exports collapsed due to sanctions. But some members, such as Iraq and Nigeria, have been producing above their quota.

Iraq, OPEC's second-largest oil producer, pledged on Thursday to reduce output by 175,000 bpd by October, while Nigeria is to reduce supply by 57,000 bpd.

OPEC's de facto leader, Saudi Arabia, will continue pumping less than its target, said Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, who took over as energy minister from Khalid al-Falih on Sunday.

The kingdom will voluntarily overdeliver on its targets and pump just below 10 million bpd, Prince Abdulaziz said.

He said the meeting on Thursday also discussed rising US shale output and exports, a global economic slowdown and a possible softening of US sanctions on OPEC member Iran.

Any formal decision on deeper oil cuts could be taken only at the next OPEC+ meeting in December, the prince said.

"Every country should live up to its commitments," the Prince said earlier as the committee of producers opened talks.

Prince Abdulaziz told the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) meeting in Abu Dhabi that it was imperative to restore stability in the oil market.

"He highlighted OPEC's operating paradigm of inclusiveness. He stressed that every country counts regardless of its size and that every country should live up to its commitments," the Saudi energy ministry said in a tweet.

In a statement after the talks, the committee also emphasised compliance, saying that "equality, fairness and transparency" were essential.

Subdued outlook 

The committee had decided to extend the output cuts by nine months until the end of March 2020, but that move failed to invigorate the market.

United Arab Emirates Energy Minister Suheil al-Mazrouei said on Sunday that the group will do whatever necessary to stabilise the market, and that further production cuts could be considered.

However, he admitted the issue was not entirely in the hands of the world's top producers, with the market no longer governed by supply but being influenced more by US-China trade tensions and geopolitical factors. 

There was no good news from the latest International Energy Agency (IEA) monthly report, which said growth in global demand for oil is expected to remain subdued.

"International trade relations have further deteriorated in the past few weeks but US and Chinese officials announced that they would resume trade negotiations in early October," the Paris-based IEA said Thursday.

"Trade disputes and rising uncertainty about the impact of the UK's possible exit from the European Union are reducing global growth through lower business and consumer confidence, supply chain re-assessments, declining investment and direct reduction of trade."

Against the uncertain backdrop, the IEA left its oil demand growth forecasts for 2019 and 2020, lowered in its previous monthly report, unchanged at 1.1 million barrels per day and 1.3 million bpd.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Thursday that the OPEC+ alliance has managed in the past to "adapt and react to the changing market conditions."

Novak, whose country is the largest producer in the group, said producers are determined to achieve stability in the oil market.

The JMMC does not take decisions but makes recommendations for action which will be considered by the full OPEC+ ministerial meeting in December.

The Saudi energy ministry said on Twitter that Prince Abdulaziz's comment "underscores the key objective of the kingdom's oil policy, which is to achieve market stability & stresses the importance of maintaining a high degree of cohesiveness among OPEC and non-OPEC producers, led by Russia."

The prince was recently promoted to the pivotal role, replacing veteran official Khalid al-Falih as the top crude exporter accelerates preparations for the much-anticipated IPO of its energy giant Aramco.

A son of King Salman, and half-brother to de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, he is the first member of the royal family ever put in charge of the kingdom's all-important energy ministry.

In his debut at the Abu Dhabi industry talks this week, Prince Abdulaziz -- a veteran of the industry with decades of experience -- has emphasised that existing Saudi energy policy will not change.