OPEC’s stated aims are to ‘coordinate and unify the petroleum policies of its member countries and ensure the stabilisation of oil markets in order to secure an efficient, economic and regular supply of petroleum to consumers, a steady income to producers and a fair return on capital for those investing in the petroleum industry.’
While OPEC’s mission statement might sound noble, it is really a cartel. It acts to fix prices, maximise profits and limit competition between its members. It has often been accused of anti-competitive actions including profiteering by constricting supply, and deliberately creating oil surpluses in an attempt to drive down prices and bankrupt competitors (like US shale producers).
Politics is also sometimes involved. For example, in 1973, its members voted to restrict supply to target countries it felt were supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War. Global prices went from $3 a barrel in October 1973 to $12 a barrel by March 1974.
However, OPEC meetings can end in stalemate if members are not able to unanimously agree new production volumes. Reaching a consensus is not easy as member countries will generally seek to maximise their own production levels, and limit others countries’, in order to benefit from the best possible prices and volumes. This problem is sometimes exacerbated by unrelated political tensions between nations. Friction between members can also arise if any country has exceeded the previously agreed quotas, as this can reduce the prices received by the group as a whole.