BusinessDay

Here’s what to know about OPEC’s new secretary-general

The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will have a new public face with the election of Kuwait’s Haitham al-Ghais as its new secretary-general beginning from next August.

Ghais, a 30-year industry veteran was voted in during a special meeting on Monday, after delegates said no other candidates emerged to succeed outgoing Mohammed Barkindo, who will have served the maximum two three-year terms when he leaves office at the end of July.

Backed by OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia and welcomed by Saudi energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Ghais is a familiar face to ministers. He served as Kuwait’s OPEC governor, or No. 2 envoy, from 2017-21 and chaired the advisory OPEC+ Joint Technical Committee in 2017.

He will have the task of representing a sometimes fractious membership that has cooperated with Russia and several other key producers on a series of production cuts since 2017 to shore up the market — most notably in the spring of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic crashed oil prices.

While the OPEC+ group has been credited with rescuing the market from those lows with its record production cut that is now being gradually unwound, it has also come under heavy criticism at times from consuming countries, such as the US, India and Japan, for overtightening supply.

Read also: Barkindo’s exit: Political intrigues, regional concerns heighten at OPEC’s Jan 4 meeting

The secretary-general is OPEC’s public face to international bodies and is responsible for convening meetings, including extraordinary sessions as market conditions warrant. The position also oversees day-to-day affairs of the secretariat in Vienna.

“I would like to offer my cordial congratulations to His Excellency Haitham al-Ghais on his appointment, by acclamation, as the next secretary-general of OPEC,” Prince Abdulaziz said in a statement.

Ghais has also served as a member and then chairman of OPEC’s internal audit committee from 2018-2021.

Since leaving his OPEC governor post, he has served as Kuwait Petroleum Corp.(KPC’s) deputy managing director of international marketing. He has previously held other senior positions at KPC in Beijing and London, in a 30-year career in the industry.

Between 2005 and 2007, Ghais headed KPC’s Beijing Office responsible for Marketing and Project Development in China. He was also in charge of KPC’s European trading and marketing activities based in KPC London Office from 2008 to 2013.

In 2014, he relocated from London Office to KPC-Head Office to head up the Market Research Department which was responsible for a team of 18 Analysts that provides Marketing Intelligence to support KPC’s International Marketing operations, long term scenario planning and strategy development for the Corporation.

Barkindo legacy

Barkindo will depart having been secretary-general as OPEC cemented its Declaration of Cooperation with non-OPEC allies, which he called a “Catholic marriage” at the time that would expand the group’s market clout — though relations within the coalition have occasionally been strained, including an infamous month-long price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia in April 2020, before the two sides agreed to the record production cuts.

Barkindo is one of Africa’s most high-profile oil officials and has had a long history with OPEC, having been a member of the Nigerian delegation from 1986 to 2010, along with holding several positions with Nigerian National Petroleum Corp., including as its head from 2009 to 2010.

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