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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Economists Doubt $14 Billion Trade Surplus

The Russian government's reported trade surplus for 1993 appears grossly exaggerated, but there is probably no intentional misinformation involved, Western economists said Tuesday.

Russia on Monday reported a $14.68 billion trade surplus in 1993, up from $5.34 billion in 1992. According to Interfax, 1993 imports fell by more than $4 billion to $31.23 billion while exports rose $5.3 billion to $45.91 billion.

The reported surplus was lower than previous government forecasts of a $20 billion trade surplus.

But senior Western economists in Moscow said cross-checking with Russian trade partners by the International Monetary Fund showed a trade surplus of about $5 billion to $7 billion for 1993. The study said Russian 1993 imports could have been as much as $35 billion.

"I don't think there is anything malicious," said a senior Western economist, attributing the erroneous figures to "a lack of adequate reporting."

Economists said import taxes imposed last year encouraged importers not to report transactions, many of which were carried out by private individuals shipping small volumes of consumer goods across poorly controlled frontiers. Central Bank officials also reported a surge in imports late last year that had not been fully reported.

Figures did not reflect changes in the ruble-dollar exchange rate, and trade with the former Soviet republics was not fully reported, economists added.

The trade surplus was also hit by Russian crude oil exports outside the former Soviet Union, which account for well over half of Russia's exports.

Although exports of crude surged about 20 percent in 1993, revenue from the sales fell by $352 million, according to new figures released by the State Statistics Committee.

The figures, published by Interfax, showed crude oil and gas condensate exports rose to 79.7 million tons from 66.2 million tons in 1992. The sales were valued at only $8.193 billion, down from $8.545 billion last year, due to a sharp decline in world market prices to around their lowest levels in five years.

The State Statistics Committee put refined oil product exports in 1993 at 34.5 million tons, about 36 percent more than 1992's 25.3 million tons. But earnings from the product sales also slipped to $3.4 billion from $4.2 billion.Natural gas exports were 95.9 billion cubic meters (valued at $7.3 billion) in 1993, compared with 87.9 billion cubic meters ($7.5 billion) in 1992.

Coal exports were 19.3 million tons ($630 million), compared with 18.1 million tons ($747 million).

Interfax did not give figures on the Russian current account, but economists said capital had moved back to Russia after interest rates became positive -- higher than the inflation rate -- towards the end of 1993.

"The actual capital flight last year was about $5 billion, and way below government estimates of $15 billion," said one economist.

(Reuters, MT)