Meet Kuwaiti’s Al-Ghais, the diplomat to replace Barkindo as OPEC’s Sec Gen

The sudden death of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC’s) Secretary-General Mohammed Barkindo is thrusting his successor Haitham Al-Ghais into the limelight earlier than planned, findings by BusinessDay shows.

Al-Ghais, a veteran of the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation and Kuwait’s OPEC’s governor from 2017 to June 2021, will take the group’s reins on August 1, replacing the late Barkindo, who took over the helm of the cartel in 2016 and led it for two terms.

“This trust that people have put into me, that countries, governments have placed into me, is something that is really, really important for me,” Al-Ghais told Energy Intelligence in January in his first public statement following his election.

For Al-Ghais, OPEC’s next meeting on August 3 will be pivotal for some of the biggest oil producers as they are expected to set a new production policy which would start from September.

Well aware of the mammoth task that faces him, market watchers say al-Ghais is keen on maintaining unity within the group, building on the foundation that Barkindo helped create over his two tenures.

“Barkindo has led the organization during extremely turbulent times for the global oil market, and his remarkable role and valuable contributions, along with our organization’s long history of dialogue and cooperation, put us in a strong position to continue supporting stability and balance in the global oil market,” said Al-Ghais this week in a tweet by the OPEC’s Secretariat.

Spi Asset Management analyst, Stephen Innes, said in the near term this unity and coordination of competing interests will be vital to reaching a production agreement that balances the needs of Mideast producers keen to maximize revenues and keeping Russia happy as it faces continuing pressure from the West.

“But the longer-term measure of success will be extending and strengthening the framework of cooperation for market management between OPEC and non-OPEC states that form the basis for those production agreements,” Innes said.

Read also: OBITUARY: Barkindo, ex-NNPC boss who died with ‘OPEC in his blood’

That agreement is due to expire at the end of the year.

Industry analysts agree that Al-Ghais’ biggest challenge will be to maintain balance with the group’s members.

“Maintaining coherence among the group while strengthening cooperation with non-OPEC alliance will be a key priority for the incoming secretary-general,” said Youssef al-Shammari, head of CMarkits.

Al-Ghais’s experience

Al-Ghais comes from a diplomat family and worked in Kuwait’s foreign ministry early in his career before joining state Kuwait Petroleum Corp. in 1993.

He went on to become the Mideast Gulf state’s OPEC’s governor from 2017 to 2021, and won the position of OPEC’s next secretary-general in a unanimous vote by the 13 OPEC members on Jan. 3.

Industry observers note that his technical and diplomatic capabilities and competencies will be crucial in his new role.

“The advantage that Haitham has [is] that he was there when the declaration of cooperation (DOC) formed from the start,” said Ali al-Riyami who was previously part of Oman’s non-OPEC delegation and is now an independent analyst for the industry.

“So understanding the DOC will be easy for him and Barkindo wanted to set up a strong foundation, which Haitham will have no trouble continuing,” he added.

Another OPEC delegate said that being from a Gulf state might give al-Ghais the advantage of increased coordination among Gulf states.

But he will also need to make sure that all members have an equal voice in the organization, a mandate the new secretary-general promised to fulfill, delegates told Energy Intelligence.

Climate Debate Challenge

Beyond the internal workings of the influential producer’s group, Al-Ghais will be tasked with representing and defending the interests of oil-producing countries.

His predecessor late Barkindo noted in his final remarks that the oil industry was “under siege” as it struggles to produce the volumes demanded by thirsty global markets and also respond to global climate initiatives to lower carbon emissions.

Giving producers a voice in that contentious climate debate will be a priority Al-Ghais told Energy Intelligence in an interview shortly after he won election to his new position.

A key objective for the medium to long term will be to ensure that OPEC and oil producers have a “louder voice” in the global climate debate, especially at upcoming UN climate conferences in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates this year and next, al-Ghais said during the January interview.

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