GARLYK, Turkmenistan, March 31 (Reuters) - Turkmenistan opened a $1 billion Belarussian-built potash plant on Friday, aiming to export 1.2 million tonnes of fertilisers to China and India a year as part of its drive to diversify away from natural gas exports.
The Central Asian nation has faced foreign currency shortages after its gas exports were hit hard by declining prices and volumes, and the government is banking on the start of potash production and other projects to make the economy more resilient.
As a potash exporter, Turkmenistan will compete with its former Soviet overlord Russia, home to the world’s biggest producer Uralkali, and Belarus, also a major global player.
Belarussian companies have built the plant and Minsk has said it would help Turkmenistan market the product.
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko attended the opening ceremony in eastern Turkmenistan and said most of the plant’s production would be exported to China and India - the world’s biggest potash importers.
“This is Central Asia’s biggest potash plant, one can confidently say it will produce 1.5 million tonnes a year,” Lukashenko said, adding that Berdymukhamedov had told him about plans to build two more potash plants.
Russia’s Uralkali said this month it expected total global potash demand to rise by 1-2 million tonnes this year to 62 million to 63 million tonnes, driven by China. (Reporting by Marat Gurt; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Susan Fenton)