Qatar will withdraw from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) from January 2019, Saad al-Kaabi, the country's energy minister announced on Monday.
The minister said in a news conference that the decision came after Qatar, an OPEC member since 1961, reviewed ways to improve its role internationally and focus on its natural gas industry for its long-term strategy, according to international media.
Qatar, the world's largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter annually for almost a decade, produced 609,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil in October, compared to OPEC's 32.9 million bpd, or 1.8 percent of the cartel, according to OPEC's Monthly Oil Market Report in November.
The decision comes at a critical time when OPEC is expected to cut its production at its much-awaited meeting on Thursday in order to increase the falling prices.
Although the minister called the decision a "technical and strategic" change, Qatar has been under pressure by its neighbors since June 2017 with a political and economic boycott.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have imposed a trade and travel embargo on Qatar for over a year, alleging that the country supports terrorism.
Qatar, meanwhile, has spent around $200 billion on infrastructure in order to open new trade routes for its economy. It has also spent $50 billion from its sovereign wealth fund into its banking sector.
By focusing on natural gas production, Qatar is expected to support its economy through LNG exports, which is estimated to increase from 77 million tonnes to 110 million tonnes per annum.
Natural gas has made Qatar one of the world’s fastest-growing and highest per-capita income countries with a $167.6 billion gross domestic product (GDP), giving its small 2.6 million population $63.500 GDP per capita, according to the World Bank.
According to OPEC's official website, Qatar is the smallest OPEC member country in terms of area and population covering an area of around 12 thousand square kilometers.
The country's proven crude oil reserves are 25.2 billion barrels at the end of 2017, according to BP's Statistical Review of World Energy 2018 report.
By Ovunc Kutlu and Gulsen Cagatay