* Indonesia left OPEC in 2008 on becoming net oil importer
* Energy minister to attend June OPEC meeting as an observer
* Return would bring OPEC membership to 13 countries (Adds no comment from OPEC, comment from source, context)
By Wilma Asmarini
JAKARTA, May 7 (Reuters) - Indonesia’s energy minister said on Thursday he would seek President Joko Widodo’s approval for the country to rejoin OPEC, seven years after leaving the oil exporters’ group.
If it returned, Indonesia would be the fourth-smallest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries ahead of Libya, Ecuador and Qatar, and bring the number of participants to 13 countries.
Indonesia was the only Asian OPEC member for nearly 50 years before leaving the group in 2008 as oil prices hit a record high, and rising domestic demand and falling production turned it into a net oil importer.
“I will ask the president to consider rejoining as a member of OPEC, so we are close to the market,” Energy Minister Sudirman Said told reporters. “We have been offered (an opportunity) to rejoin.”
OPEC termed Indonesia’s departure a “suspension” and Ecuador, which rejoined in 2007, set a precedent for a return from suspension. An OPEC source said the door was always open.
“If a country fulfils the criteria for membership, of course there is the possibility to join the organization,” the source said.
OPEC’s statute stipulates, however, that any “country with a substantial net export of crude petroleum, which has fundamentally similar interests to those of Member Countries, may become a Full Member of the Organization, if accepted by a majority of three-fourths of Full Members, including the concurring votes of all Founder Members.”
The group allows for associate members, which don’t qualify for full membership “but are nevertheless admitted under such special conditions as may be prescribed.”
The minister said he will attend OPEC’s meeting on June 5 as an observer. Non-members have been observers at OPEC gatherings in the past.
“Membership has levels. At the beginning we can be an observer, but later, if we are given the possibility to be a full member, that is good,” the minister said.
“We are still exporting gas, though only a little bit, so it’s not a problem (to be an OPEC member again).”
OPEC headquarters in Vienna declined to comment on the minister’s remarks.
Indonesia’s 2015 oil output target is 825,000 barrels per day, about half of its early 1990s production peak. While still exporting some crude, Indonesia’s refined products imports make it a net importer.
The minister also said Indonesia would soon be sending a government delegation to Kuwait, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Russia and other oil-producing countries for possible supply deals. (Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein in Singapore and Alex Lawler in London; Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Tom Hogue/Ruth Pitchford)