The world’s top oil exporters are undoubtedly some of the world’s most influential countries. As such, it behooves analysts to always stay abreast of the internal dynamics of these economic power houses. Here’s what’s going on in the countries that have the power to make or break the oil market.
1. Saudi Arabia
As the world’s leading oil exporter, Saudi Arabia shipped 7.5 million barrels per day in 2016, according to data published by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). As far as oil exports go, the Kingdom is top of the pile, despite the OPEC agreement that cut 486,000 barrels per day off its production level of 10.5 million bpd. The Kingdom holds a lot of clout in the oil market, and as such, plays a leading role in the industry cartel, which is currently implementing a 1.2 million-barrel per day production cut to rebalance a three-year supply glut plaguing oil markets.
Despite its reigning supreme in the oil export arena, not all is well in the royal palace. Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the newly crowned heir to the throne, started the month off with a series of shocking arrests of powerful royals and businessmen in a domestic power consolidation marketed in official outlets as an anti-corruption drive.
The unity of the Saud family has been a hallmark of the nation since the establishment of the Third Saudi State back in 1902. Infighting in the palace could cause the nation to fall back into contentious politics at a time when it needs to chart its course towards economic diversification, as outlined in MBS’s Vision 2030—a plan that may move Saudi Arabia away from oil, unseating it from its top spot on the list.
Outside of OPEC, Russia dominates the oil export game, hitting roughly 5.5 million barrels per day last year. Like Saudi Arabia, it too has clout, and it knows how to use it.
Moscow has teamed up with its rivals at OPEC to reduce the current oversupply that is keeping oil prices down. Russia has cut output by 300,000 bpd to assist in the team effort, but the reduction largely cuts into a boost in production that began right before the agreement was made.
Russia’s oil plays have focused on the Middle East as the U.S. foreign policy agenda in the region has weakened following the swearing in of President Donald Trump. Libya, Syria, and Iraq are now all on the receiving end of extra attention from Putin since the beginning of the year.
Baghdad has been particularly resistant to calls to reduce production to levels agreed upon in the OPEC quotas, claiming that it is in desperate need of the oil revenues. Its stubborn resistance has forced Saudi Arabia to compensate for Iraq’s steady production levels, which amounted to an export rate of 3.8 million barrels per day in 2016, according to OPEC data.
Canada is the largest exporter that is not part of the OPEC/NOPEC agreement, putting it at economic odds with the efforts to draw down the global glut. With the world’s third-largest oil reserves, Canada exports just over 3.2 million barrels per day, mostly to the USA.
Canada’s status as a reliable ally to the American and Western European foreign policy agenda provides a guilt-free source of fuel for its southern neighbor. Thousands of miles pipelines connect the U.S. and Canada, the most significant of which is the Keystone pipeline, controversially being expanded to XL status to bring Canadian oil to Gulf refineries.
Its pipeline woes, caused by pipelines falling grossly out of favor as of late, may soon cap its exports to America.
5. United Arab Emirates
The tiny Gulf community of emirates exported an impressive 2.5 million barrels per day last year, which represents 40 percent of the country's GDP. It’s recent squabble with neighboring Qatar has put the UEA in the spotlight.
The UAE was a key ally for Saudi Arabia in its ongoing battle against Qatar’s acquiescence of Iran for the exploitation of the South Pars gas field. The blockade against Doha, which began back in June, caused the UAE to end its relationship as the central shipping hub of the Qatari LNG industry—the largest of its kind.
As for its commitment to the OPEC deal, the UAE has been quick to publicly support an extension—but has only managed to comply fully with the cuts for a single month out of the entire length of the agreement.
While it’s not a big player in the export market, oil is the backbone of Kuwait’s economy. Kuwait pumped out 2.1 million barrels per day into international markets back in 2016, which represents 95 percent of the country’s total export revenues.
Iraq is still paying reparations to Kuwait for its invasion of the latter country back in 1990.
Off again, on again most aptly describes Iran’s presence on this list. Once a non-entity in the oil market due to the sanctions levied against it, now it’s established its presence, taking a bite out of Saudi Arabi’s market share. Although both Saudi Arabia and Iran are members of OPEC, they are competing for market share as Iran struggles to regain what it lost during those painful sanction years.
Since Iran’s reintroduction to world oil markets in January, Tehran has recovered its output to an average of about 2 million barrels per day. Production has been running a bit over 3.8 million bpd—more than both Kuwait and the UEA which have beat Iran with exports.
The Trump administration is determined to terminate the international nuclear pact against Iran, threatening its spot here on this list, but Tehran’s strict adherence to the terms of the deal makes it difficult for a Republican Congress to justify levying new sanctions against the country in front of the international community.
Venezuela, a nation failing to fund its hospitals and stock its grocery stores, is a founding member of the cartel, with an export rate still falling from a 2016 average of 1.9 million barrels per day in 2016, according to OPEC. Oil money earns the country 95 percent of its export revenues. Production in October 2017 has fallen to 1.863 million bpd, and exports along with it. Related: Is This The Ultimate Fuel For Millennials?
While it’s perceived clout in the world when it comes to oil exports appears to be waning, its ability to swing prices is strong, in that prices jump every time news breaks of its pending default—or actual default. Its poor oil quality has caused some shipments of oil to be refused, and it has struggled to keep production going as its cash dries up.
Years of economic mismanagement exacerbated by a three-year downturn in oil prices have now caused runaway inflation and violent street clashes, as President Nicolas Maduro prioritizes paying its international creditors, the most prominent of whom have already declared Caracas in default.
Nigeria, the largest African oil producer and exporter, ships 1.7 million barrels per day of oil. In 2016, it temporarily lost the top spot to Angola due to a militancy in the Niger Delta, a major oil-producing region.
Since the beginning of the year, the nation has stabilized, allowing output to recover at a cap of 1.8 million barrels per day. OPEC required the cap to make sure the nation’s gains do not interfere with the bloc’s production quota program.
Angola shipped 1.7 million barrels per day in 2016, with oil production and supporting activities contributing to roughly 45 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and 95 percent of its exports.
The country’s new president just fired Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman, from her post as chief of Sonangol as part of a push to end entrenched corruption.
By Zainab Calcuttawala for Oilprice.com
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