NICOSIA (Reuters) – Cyprus will open up to offers for oil and gas exploration in February, the island’s trade minister said yesterday. «The first phase of offers begins on February 15 and expires on July 16 2007,» Minister Antonis Michaelides told reporters after meeting foreign ambassadors to the island. Michaelides said interested parties would have five months to submit offers to buy the necessary data enabling them to carry our further research inside a three-year time period. «It should be understood that the process will take some time,» Michaelides said. Previous studies have estimated that oil and natural gas reserves in the seas surrounding Cyprus amount to 6 to 8 billion barrels, currently worth around $400 billion. «Up until now the studies that have been done point to encouraging signs,» the minister said. Michaelides said the aim of his meeting with ambassadors was to brief them on the first phase of the project. The information could then be passed to foreign companies interested in exploring Cyprus. Cyprus has signed agreements for exclusive economic zones with Egypt and Lebanon.