06/10/2008, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA
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Saudi Arabia calls meeting of oil producers, consumers

Riyadh wants to discuss the causes of the price rise, which it calls "unjustified". The government pledges that it will increase production to satisfy demand. Mutual accusations over the price rise, and the growing crisis in developing Asian countries.

Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Saudi Arabia, the world's leading oil producer, will hold a summit between producing countries, consumers, and oil companies, to discuss how to contain the price of petroleum, the continual rise of which threatens a slowdown in the world economy.  The announcement was made yesterday by Saudi information and culture minister Iyad Madani, at the end of a meeting of cabinet ministers in Jeddah, clarifying that the country has already informed "all oil companies it deals with, as well as countries that consume oil, that [the kingdom] is ready to provide them with any additional oil they need".

For some time, oil consuming countries, the United States and Great Britain first of all, have been asking for a rise in oil production in order to contain the price.  But they have met with refusal from exporting countries, which maintain that the rise in the price is not explained solely by the rise in worldwide demand, but by other causes as well. Madani, in fact, specified the desire to combat "unwarranted and unnatural oil price hikes", adding that "there is no justification for the current rise in prices".  The upcoming meeting could foster increased understanding of the reasons behind higher prices.

On June 6, oil touched the level of 140 dollars per barrel (before falling back yesterday to 134 dollars).

Experts are favourable but unenthusiastic over the meeting, saying it is useful to hold discussions, while observing that in the past such meetings - as Jim Ritterbusch, president of U.S.-based energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates, says - have served more to calm the market than to decide concrete actions.

Among the causes of higher prices, the United States points to the subsidy policies of many emerging Asian countries, intended to spur domestic consumption and economic growth, and to contain inflation.  Recently, many countries have had to suspend this policy because they can no longer meet the expense: today, Nepal increased domestic fuel prices by 25%, while protests continue in India over the recent increase of "only" 10%.  China today confirmed that it wants to keep its domestic price steady.  Fuel prices have risen by only 10% in China over the past two years.

Many companies, instead, accuse developing nations of applying "unsustainable and counterproductive" taxes to oil and gas.

In their turn, the companies are often accused of investing insufficient funds in research and development, and of thinking only of obtaining advantageous contracts for the exploitation of reserves in less-developed countries.

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