VIENNA — Oil ministers from the 13 member nations of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries convene here today for a mid-year meeting with no outward sign of threat to the relative solidarity that has enabled the cartel to bolster oil prices so far this year.
As they arrived Wednesday, several ministers predicted a brief meeting of only a few days in which they would affirm the production and price-fixing agreement reached last December. Most OPEC observers continued to believe that the organization will succeed in holding to the plan.
It would moderately raise crude oil production from the current quota of 15.8 million barrels a day to 16.6 million barrels in the quarter beginning July 1. That is intended to accommodate the world's seasonal rise in demand for oil while supporting the official $18-per-barrel average price.
But the OPEC ministers could lock horns over a second scheduled increase, to 18.3 million barrels on Oct. 1, because of fears it would loose too much oil on the market and weaken prices. That decision could be put off.
Despite familiar demands from Iran, Libya and Algeria for higher prices, most OPEC members have publicly voiced support for Saudi Arabia's more measured approach in support of price stability rather than risk the kind of havoc that oil markets witnessed during the price collapse last year.
"We should not lose again what we have achieved," Indonesian Oil Minister Subroto said at OPEC's headquarters here.
He was taking note of the tenuous condition of oil markets and weaknesses in the OPEC quota plan, especially the refusal of Iraq, a major producer, to abide by it. The Iran-Iraq war also continues to cloud any unified approach by the cartel to managing world oil production.
The ministers refused to comment on the outcome of committee meetings Wednesday on the marketing outlook and supply-demand picture for crude oil.
OPEC returned to Vienna for this 81st regular meeting of the 27-year-old organization after members complained about other sites, especially Geneva. In part, the switch was seen as reflecting the ouster last year of long-time Saudi Oil Minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani, who has close ties to Geneva.