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Wednesday, September 22, 1999 Published at 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK

Business: The Economy

Oil prices kept high

Oil production was cut after prices collapsed last year

The price of oil is to be kept high for at least six months, ministers from oil-producing countries have decided.

Nigel Glass: "Some want to keep prices high beyond next March."
The move will hit consumers and businesses in the form of bigger bills for heating and transport. It will also fuel fears of rising inflation in the West.

Opec, the governing body of the oil industry, is reviewing stringent production cuts agreed in March that have seen the price of oil more than double.

Representatives gathering in Vienna for the review have confirmed that they will maintain their deep cuts in oil output until at least next March, as agreed.

Observers say prices were already poised to go even higher anyway, as demand for oil will rise over the winter months.

Confusion at the top

But while Opec ministers agreed on high prices, they failed to agree on a replacement for their Secretary-General Rilwanu Lukman of Nigeria.

[ image: Keeping prices high will hit drivers]
Keeping prices high will hit drivers
Mr Lukman was due to step down to take up a post as oil advisor to the Nigerian president. But despite talks lasting late into the night, agreement could be reached on which of three candidates, nominated by Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, should take over the largely administrative job.

In the end Mr Lukman agreed to continue in the role until the end of the year, working from Nigeria.

Oil surplus concern

The production cuts were imposed after oil prices sank to just over $10 a barrel in December last year, the result of two years of falling prices due to over-supply.

The price slump threw the oil-rich Gulf states into a recession that is still having widespread effects throughout the region.

Opec (the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) will stick to cuts of 4.3 million barrels per day that it has made over the past two years.

The 11 ministers said they hope to see prices increase further, and they expressed concern over what they see as a continued oil surplus in world markets.

Secretary General Lukman did not rule out the possibility that group members would keep producing at these levels beyond next March.

After the cuts in March, prices more than doubled to nearly $24 a barrel - a level not seen since early 1997.

Opec nations are Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Nigeria, Libya, Algeria, Indonesia and Iraq.

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