Angola Will Apply for OPEC Membership

Angola, sub-Saharan Africa's second biggest oil producer, said it will apply to join OPEC, a move that should add more clout to the global producer group and the southern African nation.

"Angola is going to join OPEC shortly, in March next year, the exact day has yet to be finalised," Angolan oil ministry spokesman Bastos de Almeida told Reuters by telephone on Thursday. "There are deep advantages financially."

The decision was taken by the Angolan cabinet on Wednesday, the Angola Press Agency (Angop) reported.

"The decision took into account the part played by the country in the world's oil domain, in view of its current output of 1.4 million barrels a day," the agency said late on Wednesday.

Angola, sub-Saharan Africa's second largest oil producer after Nigeria, pumps about 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd). Output is expected to hit 2 million bpd next year, underlining the African nation's growing importance in the oil world.

Industry analysts said membership in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries could involve a financial cost to Angola in terms of the group's output curbs, but it should raise the global profiles of the southern African country and OPEC.

"Angola is joining because revenues are rising so spectacularly fast at the moment that it gives it more influence on the world stage," said Nick Shaxson, Angola head at the UK-based Chatham House think-tank.

"This is the most important factor - any potential constraint on revenue is a small price to pay," he said.

OPEC has played a key role in coordinating oil policies of its members and in trying to strike a balance between world oil supplies and price since its creation in 1960.

The group now has 11 members -- Algeria, Indonesia, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and Iraq.

Tiny African producer Gabon defected from the group in 1994 -- unable to afford the membership fees or to restrain its production.

Joining OPEC also signals Luanda's confidence that the country is quickly emerging from a brutal 27-year civil war that devastated its economy, and is set to enjoy several more years of strong economic growth.

Angola's economy grew by 18 percent last year, and the government expects another year of heady growth in 2006.

American oil giant Chevron Corp. is among the companies that have increased investments in Angola's oil sector.

Other firms operating in Angola include Total affiliate Tepa, BP, Statoil, Tullow Oil, Exxon Mobil, Marathon Oil Corp, and Eni.

Chinese firms also have gained a foothold, with a series of deals backed by loans and credit from Beijing.

Cabinda, a former Portuguese enclave that was incorporated into Angola after independence in 1975, has been the centre for much of the oil activity in the country, accounting for about 65 percent of Angola's oil output.

Oil exploration in the region, which is separated from the rest of Angola and wedged between Congo Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, has tended to focus on offshore drilling.