* Office to start operations by H1 with 3-5 staff
* To move London-based trader to Houston
* Houston office to market Latam crude, buy US oil
BEIJING/SINGAPORE, Jan 26(Reuters) - China's Sinochem Corp plans to open a trading office in the United States, drawn by the opportunity to trade growing production in the Americas, five sources with knowledge of the matter said on Friday.
The state-run oil and chemical trader's plan to open an office in Houston would seek to exploit rising U.S. crude production, which could prompt crude exports to rise by 45 percent in 2018 from last year, analysts said last week. Sinochem could also use the office to meet growing opportunities to supply China's independent refineries.
The proposed office is expected to start operating later in the first half of this year with three to five staff initially, they said. Sinochem had a U.S. oil trading office that closed about 20 years ago.
Sinochem crude oil trader Zhu Yibing, currently trading North and South American crude from London, will move to the new office in Houston, the sources said.
"U.S. is where everyone is setting up offices...with growing supplies from the U.S., there will be plenty of barrels available for trading," said a company source.
Bigger domestic rivals Sinopec and PetroChina both have trading operations in Houston. Unipec, the trading arm of Asia's biggest refiner Sinopec, is the region's largest buyer of U.S. crude oil.
Sinochem did not respond to Reuters' request for comment.
Major oil companies and trading houses are bulking up U.S. operations to market rising crude oil production from onshore U.S. shale resources and offshore fields in the Gulf of Mexico and Brazil.
Sinochem's new office is expected to market its equity production from South America, previously handled from London. The grades include Ecuadorean Napo, Colombian Vasconia and Brazilian Peregrino that are considered so-called heavy crudes.
Marketing of the firm's equity shale oil output in west Texas could also fall under the new office's purview, said a second source familiar with the plan.
In 2013, parent company Sinochem Group bought a 40 percent stake in Pioneer Natural Resources' Wolfcamp shale acreage, in the Permian Basin, for $1.7 billion. Its equity output of about 20,000 barrels a day is currently marketed by Pioneer, said another source from the company.
Earlier this month, Sinochem signed an oil procurement and marketing deal with chemical company Dalian Hengli Group, which will start a new refinery in the fourth quarter.
U.S. crude exports are expected to jump this year to 1.5 million barrels per day, about 45 percent higher than 2017, driven by demand from Europe and Asia, analysts and traders said at an energy conference in Houston last week.
(Reporting by Chen Aizhu in BEIJING and Florence Tan in SINGAPORE; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)