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Russia's 2006 trade surplus grew 15% on oil and gas

Russia's trade surplus grew 15% last year as the world's biggest energy exporter benefited from oil and gas sales.

The surplus ballooned to $164.4 billion from $142.8 billion a year earlier, the Moscow-based Federal Customs Service said in an e-mailed statement today. Average oil prices increased 25% from a year earlier, boosting the surplus. Russia is heading for a ninth year of economic expansion since the 1998 financial crisis as high oil prices boost the nation's trade surplus.
President Vladimir Putin urged the country's largest companies to do more to lessen Russia's reliance on raw materials exports, as crude oil prices dropped below $60 a barrel this year. „Exports will increase slower next year because of lower oil prices,” said Irina Lebedeva, an economist with Deutsche UFG bank in Moscow. „The physical amount of exports may grow, but it won't translate into strong growth in monetary terms.”

Exports rose 25% to $302 billion, while imports advanced 39% to $137.5 billion as a stronger ruble makes imports cheaper for Russians. Import growth was driven by cars and machinery, which accounted for 48% of all goods brought in from abroad. Oil, gas and petrochemicals exports accounted for 68% of total exports, 67% more than the previous year, the statement said.
„The demand for imports will remain strong next year because of planned investment in infrastructure,” Lebedeva said. Russia spent $4.4 billion on the so-called „national projects” this year, aimed at boosting health care, housing, agriculture and education. The planned national projects spending will surpass $6 billion this year. (Bloomberg)