A picture shows the Ras Laffan Industrial City, Qatar's principal site for production of liquefied natural gas and gas-to-liquid, administrated by Qatar Petroleum, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the capital Doha, on February 6, 2017. 
The head of energy giant Qatar Petroleum has shrugged off fears that any potential protectionist policies pursued by US President Donald Trump would impact on global oil and gas markets. Saad Al-Kaabi -- who heads state-owned QP, the largest exporter of Liquid Natural Gas and one of the biggest oil companies in the world -- said he expected US policy to remain similar to that exercised under previous presidents.

 / AFP / KARIM JAAFAR        (Photo credit should read KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images)
KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images
A picture shows the Ras Laffan Industrial City, Qatar's principal site for production of liquefied natural gas and gas-to-liquid, administrated by Qatar Petroleum, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the capital Doha, on February 6, 2017. The head of energy giant Qatar Petroleum has shrugged off fears that any potential protectionist policies pursued by US President Donald Trump would impact on global oil and gas markets. Saad Al-Kaabi -- who heads state-owned QP, the largest exporter of Liquid Natural Gas and one of the biggest oil companies in the world -- said he expected US policy to remain similar to that exercised under previous presidents. / AFP / KARIM JAAFAR (Photo credit should read KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images)
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(CNN Business) —  

OPEC is losing one of its oldest members.

The small, gas-rich state of Qatar said Monday that it will leave the oil cartel on January 1 after nearly 60 years. The country’s state oil company, Qatar Petroleum, made the announcement in a series of tweets.

“The withdrawal decision reflects Qatar’s desire to focus its efforts on plans to develop and increase its natural gas production,” Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi, the country’s newly-appointed minister of state for energy affairs, was cited as saying in one of the tweets.

Qatar has been under a diplomatic and economic embargo by its Arab neighbors, including OPEC members Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, for the past 18 months. In response, Qatar has been increasing gas production, the mainstay of its economy.

Qatar's newly appointed energy minister, Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi. He announced on Monday that Qatar will be withdrawing from OPEC in January.
STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images
Qatar's newly appointed energy minister, Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi. He announced on Monday that Qatar will be withdrawing from OPEC in January.

OPEC has no role in the global market for natural gas. And Qatar made no reference to the dispute with other Gulf states in its announcement, emphasizing plans to cement its position as the world’s leading supplier of gas. Its exports currently account for about 30% of global demand.

“Achieving our ambitious growth strategy will undoubtedly require focused efforts, commitment and dedication to maintain and strengthen Qatar’s position as the leading natural gas producer,” Al-Kaabi said.

Marginal OPEC producer

Qatar is a marginal player in OPEC when compared to some of the cartel’s biggest producers, such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq. It pumps about 600,000 barrels of oil a day out of more than 27 million from all OPEC members.

But the surprise move comes at a critical time for OPEC. Its members and other major producers are due to meet in Vienna this week to discuss cutting production to boost oil prices.