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Baku — Azerbaijan is set to host an OPEC/non-OPEC monitoring committee meeting in Baku on Monday, putting it at the center of the global oil market's attention, and providing an opportunity for its energy officials to convene with key ministers.

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The meeting comes at a time when analysts say Azerbaijan needs to attract new investment if it is to successfully replace current reserves and maintain production volumes over the next few decades.

Having already taken advantage of its participation in the OPEC/non-OPEC production cut agreement to forge closer bilateral energy ties with Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan is likely to use the meeting to seek further engagement in its state oil company Socar.

"Azerbaijani oil production has already entered a period of natural decline, so additional exploration and development is needed but that is expensive in a landlocked country like Azerbaijan compared to more accessible oil regions of the world," said Alp Coker, a senior analyst at political risk consultancy GPW Group.

With a state budget significantly dependent on oil and gas revenues, the Caspian country said this week it produced 806,000 b/d of crude and condensate in February, flat on the year.

S&P Global Platts Analytics forecasts Azerbaijan's crude and condensate production will stay roughly flat up to 2021, with rising condensate output from Shah Deniz continuing to act as a counterbalance to declines at its mature fields.

Beyond that, however, the outlook is less promising. Independent energy expert Ilham Shaban noted that, since it gained independence from Russia in 1991, Azerbaijan has not discovered a single new oil field.

"The country receives 80% of export revenues from the export of crude oil, [so] this is the main risk," he said.

CASPIAN COOPERATION

Azerbaijan is one of 10 non-OPEC producers that have teamed up with the 14 members of OPEC in a supply cut accord aimed at boosting prices that is now entering its third year.

It does not sit on the six-country Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee, which is co-chaired by the energy ministers of Saudi Arabia and Russia, but extended an invitation last year to host the meeting, amid rumors that it was seeking to join OPEC.

In recent weeks, Azerbaijan has hosted delegations from the Saudi energy ministry and the Saudi General Investment Authority to discuss energy cooperation. A joint technical commission has been set up to facilitate this, and the two sides plan to sign a memorandum of understanding in the near future.

Support for the Azeri oil sector could also come through improvements in regional cooperation. Last August, after 20 years of negotiations, the five littoral states of the Caspian -- Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan -- agreed on the legal terms of sharing access to its vast hydrocarbons reserves.

Iran, Kazakhstan and Russia are members of the OPEC/non-OPEC coalition, while Turkmenistan has sent representatives to previous meetings as an observer.

Rene Santos of Platts Analytics said that it is likely that the energy sector of the Caspian countries will become more integrated, with potential areas of cooperation including sharing of pipelines and logistics for drilling and developing new fields.

"Obviously, Azerbaijan would benefit from cooperation in these areas," Santos said.

Shaban said that an expected increase in oil and gas production in Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan's sectors of the Caspian Sea will allow Azerbaijan to increase its role in regional energy transportation.

He predicted that transit volumes via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which stood at around 6.5 million mt in 2018, could double to 12-13 million mt by the middle of the next decade.

However, delicate geopolitics among the Caspian states, as well as the need to negotiate resource boundaries between Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan in the sea remain barriers, according to Coker.

"That said, the deal could open up opportunities for Azerbaijan to fulfil its ambitions to become a regional transport and logistics hub, including for energy," Coker said.

'BP TAKING THE LEAD'

To date Azerbaijan has had a strong track record with Western majors of attracting investment into its oil and gas sector, particularly BP, which has had a presence in the country for more than 25 years.

A BP-led coalition operates the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli project, which accounts for the bulk of the country's output. BP also operates the Shah Deniz gas and condensate project, as well as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the South Caucasus gas pipeline transportation projects.

Analysts expect the company, which has an office in Baku, to take the lead on any new exploration and development activities.

"They have a very strong relationship with Socar and the Azerbaijani government and lead on ACG's key negotiations," Coker said of BP.

Shaban said that the recent oil price recovery has seen interest in Azerbaijan increase among foreign companies, especially on the Caspian shelf. BP and Equinor signed new exploration agreements with Socar last year.

More deals will be needed for Azerbaijan to maintain its position as a key oil producer and fuel future economic growth.

-- Rosemary Griffin, rosemary.griffin@spglobal.com

-- Herman Wang, herman.wang@spglobal.com

-- Edited by James Leech, newsdesk@spglobal.com