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OPEC to consider Republic of Congo's application to become 15th member

Vienna — OPEC could add a new member at its meeting on Friday, with the Republicof Congo seeking to join the producer group.

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Congo, which produces about 250,000-300,000 b/d, would become OPEC's 15thcountry, if its application is approved, and add to the organization's growingAfrican bloc.

A vote is likely to be on the OPEC meeting agenda, sources told S&PGlobal Platts, though a Congo representative said it could be pushed to laterthis year, given that the organization faces a week of thorny talks over thefuture of its production cut agreement.

The Congo bid is "looking good, but since OPEC has a lot of difficultissues to discuss, it's not quite on the priority list for now," said arepresentative from the country who is in Vienna for discussions with OPEC.

He added that Congo was keen to join OPEC straightaway, but theorganization was facing "a few problems that it needs to sort out."

OPEC Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo met with the Congolesedelegation on Monday, a delegate said.

In January, the country's President Denis Sassou Nguesso said in astatement that he desired "imminent" membership in OPEC, which would bringCongo "to the rank of world leaders, who take decisions in internationalnegotiations."

Congo, which relies on oil sales for 80% of its revenue, is not part ofthe 1.8 million b/d OPEC/non-OPEC production cut agreement, but did attend thecoalition's meeting on November 30, 2017, in Vienna as an observer.

Its production would rank 13th in OPEC, ahead of fellow African producersGabon and Equatorial Guinea. With just one 20,000 b/d refinery currentlyoperating at around half its capacity, Congo exports almost all of its oil.

It is hoping to raise its output this year, as the Moho Nord offshorefield, operated by French major Total, ramps up after beginning productionlast March.

GROWING AFRICAN CLOUT

Congo's three main crude grades include the heavy medium sweet Djeno, thelight sweet N'Kossa and the heavy Yombo.

Djeno is the country's flagship export grade, with production rangingbetween 200,000 b/d and 250,000 b/d in 2017.

It is extremely popular with Chinese refiners as it yields a high amountof vacuum gasoil and fuel oil, and is also low in sulfur, according totraders.

China's Unipec, Sinochem, PetroChina and ZhenHua Oil are all regularbuyers of Djeno, with Unipec typically buying two to four cargoes of the gradeevery month.

Also known as Congo-Brazzaville, the Republic of the Congo is the smallerof two countries sharing similar names which border the Congo River in centralwestern Africa. Its larger neighbor to the south is the Democratic Republic ofthe Congo, also referred to as DR Congo or Zaire.

OPEC has seen a recent boost in its African ranks, with Gabonreactivating its membership in July 2016 and Equatorial Guinea joining in May2017. Angola and Nigeria are OPEC's other sub-Saharan members, while Algeriaand Libya make up its North African contingent.

Uganda and South Sudan have also expressed interest in becoming members.

--Staff, newsdesk@spglobal.com

--Edited by E Shailaja Nair, newsdesk@spglobal.com