Bolivia natgas, mineral exports up 42.6 pct in '08
LA PAZ, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Bolivian exports rose by 42.6 percent in 2008 to a record $6.84 billion on the back of strong prices for natural gas and minerals, the Andean country's top revenue earners, the government said on Wednesday.
The value of Bolivian exports grew strongly during the first nine months of 2008, but growth slowed in the fourth quarter due to the global financial crisis, the National Statistics Institute, or INE, said in a report.
Leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales is striving to increase state revenues from the country's natural resources and has raised taxes on energy and mining companies since taking office in early 2006.
He has also nationalized several energy and mining firms as well as the country's largest telecommunications company.
Bolivian exports have been increasing since 2001, when exports from the impoverished South American country totaled $1.23 billion.
Imports rose by 44.25 percent in 2008 to $4.99 billion, helping Bolivia achieve a trade surplus last year, the INE said in a separate report.
Sales of fossil fuels and minerals accounted for 72.4 percent of total exports, the INE said, and sales of natural gas and other fuels represented nearly 50 percent of exports.
Fuel exports increased by 53.3 percent in 2008, while mineral exports rose by 43.7 percent, the INE said.
Bolivia exported $3.43 billion worth of hydrocarbons last year, including $2.85 billion worth of natural gas to Brazil and $281 million to Argentina.
Brazil and Argentina are the only buyers of Bolivian natural gas. The countries have contracts to import up to 30 million cubic feet a day and up to 7.7 million cubic feet a day respectively.
Mineral exports went up to 1.52 billion last year, and the biggest buyer of Bolivian minerals was South Korea, which bought $813 million worth of zinc, silver and lead.
Brazil is currently Bolivia's biggest trade partner followed by South Korea, and the United States.
Although the government has not released an estimate for 2009 exports, officials have expressed fears that export revenues could decrease due to lower prices for natural gas and minerals amid the global financial downturn.
Brazil and Argentina are expected to pay less for Bolivian natural gas beginning in April, since the price they pay is adjusted on a quarterly basis in line with international prices for fuels.
Argentina is currently paying just over $10 per million BTUs (British Thermal Unit), while Brazil pays around $8 per million BTUs.
(Reporting by Carlos Quiroga, Writing by Eduardo Garcia; Editing by David Gregorio)