CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt is looking to increase exports to Russia by 15 percent in the coming year, eying an opportunity to take advantage of Russian restrictions on Turkish imports, an Egyptian ministry of trade official said on Saturday.
Russia, one of Turkey's primary trading partners, approved economic sanctions against Turkey this week in retaliation for the downing of a Russian fighter plane near the Syrian-Turkish border on Nov. 24.
The sanctions prohibit Russia from importing a list of agricultural products from Turkey including fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, grapes, apricots and apples, as well as chicken products and salt.
Egypt needs to bolster its exports as it struggles with a ballooning trade deficit that has tripled in the past decade to almost $39 billion. Egypt's exports globally fell 17.4 percent in January-October this year to $15.4 billion, latest official data shows.
"We are targeting an increase in our agricultural exports to Russia by 15 percent over the coming year in light of the restrictions Russia has imposed on Turkish imports," an official at the ministry of trade told Reuters.
Increased Egyptian exports to Russia would be the latest sign of warmer relations between the two countries following joint naval exercises in June and an agreement last month for Russia to build Egypt's first nuclear power plant.
"There are consultations with the Russian side to figure out what are the most important goods needed over the coming period," Minister of Trade Tarek Kabil said in a statement.
The boost to trade could help alleviate Egypt's ongoing shortage of hard currency, which has curbed the country's imports and slowed manufacturing activity.
Egyptian agricultural exports to Russia range from 600 to 650 thousand tonnes annually and are worth approximately $310 million, a ministry statement said. Data on Egypt's exports to Russia this year compared with last year were not available.
Reporting by Ehab Farouk; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Susan Fenton