* GDP grew 9.2 pct in 2010 vs 6.1 pct in 2009
* Close to previous IMF estimate
* Seeking to diversify economy, gas exports
By Marat Gurt
ASHGABAT, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Turkmenistan’s economy, dependent largely on natural gas exports, grew by 9.2 percent last year as the Central Asian state found more buyers for its fuel, President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said on Tuesday.
Diversification of its economy also helped drive the rise in growth from 6.1 percent in 2009, while inflation slowed almost to zero, Berdymukhamedov said in an address broadcast on state television.
Turkmenistan, a reclusive former Soviet republic that holds the world’s fourth-largest natural gas reserves, rarely publishes economic indicators and official data is often viewed with scepticism by outsiders.
But the GDP growth figure for 2010 closely matches an estimate of 9.4 percent given by the International Monetary fund in October last year. [ID:nLDE69R17L]
According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s latest World Factbook, the country now ranks 102nd in the world in terms of GDP per capita, sandwiched between Nepal and Honduras.
Berdymukhamedov, who has ditched some of the more quirky policies of his authoritarian predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, said foreign investment had increased in 2010. He said inflation slowed to 0.1 percent, without giving a comparative figure.
Turkmenistan’s aims to triple its current annual output of natural gas -- around 75 billion cubic metres -- within 20 years. Keen to lessen its heavy dependence on exports to Russia, it also launched a natural gas pipeline to China in late 2009 and has agreed to boost exports to neighbouring Iran.
Reviving a plan to build a trans-Afghan pipeline to the markets of Pakistan and India is also on the agenda, as is the construction of an alternative export route to Europe, known as Nabucco, which would bypass Russia.
Foreign investors last year committed about $10 billion to develop the massive South Iolotan gas field. Official data show total investment in Turkmenistan’s economy, including foreign loans, could reach $57 billion in the five years to 2015.
Deputy Prime Minister Tuvakmammed Japarov told an investment forum in October that Turkmenistan aimed to cut its dependence on gas exports by developing its petrochemicals industry and potential export sectors including construction materials, textiles and electronics. (Writing by Robin Paxton; editing by Patrick Graham)