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    Egypt Not Considering Joining OPEC for Time Being - Petroleum Minister

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    HOUSTON (Sputnik) - Egypt is not planning to join the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for the time being, Tarek El Molla, Egyptian minister of petroleum and mineral resources, told Sputnik on Wednesday on the sidelines of the CERAWeek conference in the US city Houston.

    OPEC chief Mohammad Barkindo said Tuesday that Egypt did not submit a membership bid yet but that the organization would be happy to see Egypt in its ranks.

    "Not for the time being," El Molla said, when asked whether Egypt was considering to join OPEC.

    He stressed that Egypt already had the status of an OPEC observer nation.

    "We are already observers in OPEC. I cannot join OPEC now because I am currently an importer of crude. I am importing crude, so I cannot join," El Molla said.

    The minister explained that while Egypt was now considering cutting its oil production, it would not be easy for the country to make this step.

    "We are still subsidizing our fuel, and we have a program to reform and to remove the subsidies. Hence, we can't be in a position… for joining OPEC," El Molla concluded.

    On 7 December, participants of the OPEC-non-OPEC oil output cut deal, which has been in force since early 2017, agreed to reduce overall production by 1.2 million barrels per day starting from 2019, with a view of signing the charter on future long-term cooperation in the first quarter of 2019. OPEC member states will cut production by 800,000 barrels per day, while non-OPEC countries will reduce it by 400,000 barrels per day.

    Future OPEC-Non-OPEC Meetings

    Egypt is eager to host future meetings between the OPEC and non-OPEC countries, Tarek El Molla told Sputnik.

    Media reports emerged recently that Egypt could replace Austria as the venue for the next OPEC-non-OPEC meeting.

    "Yes, of course, [Egypt is] considering [hosting OPEC-non-OPEC meetings]. Definitely. We are welcoming. It will be our pleasure and honor to welcome the OPEC and non-OPEC countries," El Molla said, when asked whether Cairo considered hosting OPEC-non-OPEC meetings.

    OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo confirmed to Sputnik on Monday that Vienna would host the upcoming 17-18 April meeting between OPEC member states and non-cartel producers, as planned. He added that he could not currently say whether Cairo could host future OPEC-non-OPEC meetings.

    Russian projects in Egypt

    El Molla noted that Egypt would like Russia to participate in more projects in the country and to achieve mutually beneficial results.

    "We have already many companies operating in Egypt. We have Lukoil, we have Rosneft. We want them to join us in all the expansion that we have and in many projects that we have," the minister said.

    El Molla noted that Cairo would like to expand energy cooperation with Russia in all areas.

    "In everything-upstream, downstream, midstream," he said.

    Egypt always welcomes Russia, and the relationship between the two countries is at a very good level, the minister said.

    "[Egyptian] President [Abdel Fattah] Sisi and [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin are very good friends. They are supportive of our reforms in our country and there is complete alignment between the two countries. We welcome always Russian investments," he said.

    El Molla noted that he regularly met with Lukoil CEO Vagit Alekperov and Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin.

    "They are all friends," he added.

    Anti-Russian sanctions and their impact on Russian companies in Egypt

    Tarek El Molla stated that Western sanctions against Moscow are not hindering the work of Russian energy companies doing business in Egypt.

    "No it didn't pose any problems for Russians to work in Egypt," the minister said when asked the relevant question.

    In 2014, relations between Russia and the West deteriorated over the former's alleged involvement in the Ukrainian conflict and Crimea's reunification with Russia following a referendum.

    The United States and the European Union have since imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia's energy, banking, defense and other sectors, as well as on a number of Russian officials. Moscow has repeatedly denied the allegations and reacted with countermeasures against the Western nations that targeted it with sanctions.

    Russian oil giant Rosneft is involved in production at the Zohr gas field in Egypt. Rosneft owns 30 percent in the project, while the Italian Eni S.p.A has a 60-percent share, and BP owns a 10-percent stake. Lukoil, Eni and Japan's Mitsui are the shareholders in the joint venture to develop Meleiha Block, which is located in the Egypt's Western Desert. Eni holds 56 percent of the project's shares, while Lukoil has 24 percent and Mitsui 20 percent.

    Tags:
    sanctions, projects, gas, oil, OPEC, Tarek el-Molla (Tarek Molla), Mohammad Barkindo, United States, Russia, Egypt
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