08:46 GMT28 January 2021
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    In early December, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a 13-member cartel including Venezuela, plus its partner nations, including Russia, agreed to gradually increase oil output by 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) starting in January, reducing earlier agreed upon production cuts to 7.2 million bpd.

    Venezuela’s oil exports took a major hit in December amid escalating US sanctions pressure and the prospect of increased competition from other oil exporters, Bloomberg has reported, citing shipping reports and vessel tracking data.

    According to the data, exports dropped to about 231,613 barrels per day (bpd) in December, down to about half of 2020’s 464,000 bpd average. Overall, 2020 is said to have been the worst year for Venezuelan crude exports since 1949. The plunge comes amid reports earlier this month that exports had grown to an average of 639,000 bpd in November amid a spike in new buyers in Asia.

    The United States slapped crushing sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry in early 2019, confiscating billions of dollars in assets abroad belonging to state oil giant PDVSA and threatening secondary restrictions against countries buying the Latin American nation’s crude as part of a bid to overthrow its democratically elected government. The sanctions saw the country’s oil sales drop from an average of 1 million bpd, and caused problems for refineries, prompting Iran to send emergency supplies of gasoline and equipment to help restore the country’s energy infrastructure.

    Caracas defied US sanctions by continuing to sell to some traditional partners, such as China, and to find workarounds for the restrictions, such as changing flags of its supertankers, ship-to-ship transfers and the shutting off of satellite trackers. Nevertheless, the sanctions, combined with the loosening OPEC+ output restrictions agreed to in early December, appear to have hit exports hard.

    Venezuela has the largest confirmed oil reserves in the world, standing at more than 300 billion barrels. President Nicolas Maduro has repeatedly accused Washington of seeking to overthrow his government in a bid to get its hands on his nation’s vast energy reserves and mineral resources.

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